Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On God and Government: Yahweh Malak

SCRIPTURE, WHETHER THE OLD COVENANT OR THE NEW, does not purport to be a political document, a political constitution. There is no normative political institution which is required by Scripture as revealed truth, and so the Church has never theoretically advocated a particular form of government for political society, though perhaps it has historically or prudentially supported one regime over another.

There is however much to be learned tangentially as it were from Scripture regarding political governance, since the truths of God which it reveals provide a real constraint upon earthly authorities--what their responsibilities are, what they may advocate, and what they may do. These constraints exist upon any political form of government, whether we are dealing with a monarchy and a king and his court or a democracy and its president or prime minister and the people.

One huge gift that God, through his chosen people the Jews, revealed is that political power is not to be absolutized. It is not the end of all things. It is not the most important of things.

In fact, it was not the nation, or the city, but Yahweh that was recognized as the source of ultimate political power. It is Israel's gift to the world that the earthly powers are not absolute, but that they are answerable to something greater. This principle was expressed through the notion of Yahweh as king: Yahweh malak.

Yahweh Malak

To the Israelites, Yahweh the Lord was king or was become king, Yahweh malak (יְהוָ֣ה מָלָךְ֮) or malak elohim.* This concept is found in a particularly striking way in the so-called "Enthronement Psalms," identified as Psalms 47, 93, 96-99. These Psalms all acknowledge God's sovereignty over heaven and earth and over all peoples and their kings. They were perhaps used in liturgical enthronement ceremonies, and enjoy a rich breadth of kingship arising from the vagueness of the term Yahweh malak which could mean, Yahweh reigns (or is king), or Yawweh has become king, or Yahweh will reign. The language thus points to an ontological reality, to a temporal circumstance or idealization, and to an eschatological reality or fulfillment. Yahweh is king--whether the earthly powers recognize him to be so. All the earth is his footstool. Yahweh is king--and it is meet and right that the judges and kings that ruled the Jews, and indeed all earthly powers, recognize him to be so. Yahweh is king--when at the end of the world, all things will be placed under his direct rule.

Psalm 47, for example, clearly calls upon all nations--the gentiles as well as Israel--to acknowledge Yahweh, enthroned as the King of Israel, as the universal God, whose universal rule encompasses all nations and is superior to all earthly kings. Yahweh is the King of kings, the Lord of Lords. The Psalm recalls the presence of God in the midst of his people Israel in the Ark of the Covenant, which was placed in the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple.
All you peoples, clap your hands;
shout to God with joyful cries.
For the LORD [Yahweh], the Most High, is to be feared,
the great king [melek]over all the earth,
Who made people subject to us,
nations under our feet,
Who chose our heritage for us,
the glory of Jacob, whom he loves.

God has gone up with a shout;
the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
sing praise to our king, sing praise.

For God [elohim] is king [melek] over all the earth;
sing hymns of praise.
God rules over the nations;
God sits upon his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples assemble
with the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God,
highly exalted.

The same notion is repeated in Psalm 93, another of the Enthronement Psalms. Here, the kingship of God is less related to his revelation to Israel; rather, the kingship of God is linked to his status as creator of the cosmos, the one to whom all natural creation is ultimately answerable, as alpha, its source, as omega, its end. He is the one who brings order out of chaos. Like several of the Enthronement Psalms, this Psalm begins with the invocation Yahweh malak! The Lord is King!
The LORD is king [Yahweh malak], robed with majesty;
the LORD is robed, girded with might.
The world will surely stand in place,
never to be moved.
Your throne stands firm from of old;
you are from everlasting.
The flood has raised up, LORD;
the flood has raised up its roar;
the flood has raised its pounding waves.
More powerful than the roar of many waters,
more powerful than the breakers of the sea,
powerful in the heavens is the LORD.
Your decrees are firmly established;
holiness befits your house, LORD,
for all the length of days.
The universality of God's reign is repeated in Psalm 96. Israel's God is not God over only Israel. He is God--and hence King--over all peoples. It is recognition of God as King that will lead to fairness and justice in the political realm. Here we have a particularly strong hint of the coming of the Messianic King, Jesus, and of the Kingship of God's eschatological fulfillment at the end of time:
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.

Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his marvelous deeds.

For great is the LORD and highly to be praised,
to be feared above all gods.
For the gods of the nations are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and power go before him;
power and grandeur are in his holy place.

Give to the LORD, you families of nations,
give to the LORD glory and might;
give to the LORD the glory due his name!
Bring gifts and enter his courts;
bow down to the LORD, splendid in holiness.
Tremble before him, all the earth;
declare among the nations: The LORD is king [Yahweh malak].
The world will surely stand fast, never to be shaken.
He rules the peoples with fairness.

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them.
Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice
before the LORD who comes,
who comes to govern the earth,
To govern the world with justice
and the peoples with faithfulness.

Psalm 97, which, like Psalm 93, opens with the declaration "The Lord is King," Yahweh malak, repeats the same theme, stressing God's ontological kingship and linking it with his status as creator of heaven of earth, of lightning and thunder, of light, of mountains, of the seas and the islands in it. There is a hint of the darkness of God's mystery, and a praise of God being the fiery source of all justice and right, and the consolation of those who do justice.
The LORD is king [Yahweh malak]; let the earth rejoice;
let the many islands be glad.
Cloud and darkness surround him;
justice and right are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him,
consuming his foes on every side.

His lightening illumines the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.

The heavens proclaim his justice;
all peoples see his glory.

All who serve idols are put to shame,
who glory in worthless things;
all gods bow down before him.

Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice
because of your judgments, O LORD.
For you, LORD, are the Most High over all the earth,
exalted far above all gods.
You who love the LORD, hate evil,
he protects the souls of the faithful,
rescues them from the hand of the wicked.

Light dawns for the just,
and gladness for the honest of heart.
Rejoice in the LORD, you just,
and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.

Psalm 98 continues the enthronement theme, stressing the liturgical celebration, in which even inanimate creation joins, of the God who, not only has historically intervened in the life of Israel, but will come at the end of time to set all things right. The eschatological concept is particularly stressed in this Enthronement Psalm. Earthly Israel is but a sign of the heavenly Israel. There are also images of God as a warrior, one who, like some sort of divine Achilles with his military prowess or a young David with his simple slingshot, accomplishes marvelous deeds with his right hand and his holy arm:
Sing a new song to the LORD,
for he has done marvelous deeds.
His right hand and holy arm
have won the victory.

The LORD has made his victory known;
has revealed his triumph in the sight of the nations,
He has remembered his mercy and faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.

Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth;
break into song; sing praise.
Sing praise to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy to the King, the LORD [hammelek Yahweh].

Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell there.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy,
Before the LORD who comes,
who comes to govern the earth,
To govern the world with justice
and the peoples with fairness.

Finally, we may look at the last of the Enthronement Psalms, Psalm 99. Like Psalm 97, the opening words set the theme: Yahweh malak: The Lord reigns. Here, God's historical intervention in the life of Israel is recalled. And though God has historically intervened in time--to rule the germ of the twelve tribes of Israel in Jacob, to bring his people out of the slavery of Egypt through the acts of Moses the great lawgiver, and sanctify them through the priestly ministry of Aaron, and to rule them through the great Judge Samuel--he is altogether separate from the world--Holy is he! He is hard on those who violate his just precepts, but forgiving to those who turn back.
The LORD is king [Yahweh malak], the peoples tremble;
he is enthroned on the cherubim, the earth quakes.

Great is the LORD in Zion,
exalted above all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name:
Holy is he!

O mighty king, lover of justice,
you have established fairness;
you have created just rule in Jacob.
Exalt the LORD, our God;
bow down before his footstool;
holy is he!

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel among those who called on his name;
they called on the LORD, and he answered them.
From the pillar of cloud he spoke to them;
they kept his decrees, the law he had given them.
O LORD, our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
though you punished their offenses.
Exalt the LORD, our God;
bow down before his holy mountain;
holy is the LORD, our God.

This theme of enthronement is not abandoned by the Christians, and indeed, Christ is he who is enthroned in the manner of Yahweh. These Enthronement Psalms are recalled in in words of the Angel Gabriel in the Gospel of Luke (1:32-33) with specific reference to Jesus: "He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule [or reign as king] (βασιλεύσει) over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."** It reverberates in St. Paul's statement in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:25): Jesus "must reign (βασιλεύειν) until he has put all his enemies under his feet." It is perhaps recalled most vividly in St. John's Apocalypse (11:15, 17-18; 19:6), where the eschatological fulfillment of God's reign at the end times and at final judgment is linked with these enthronement Psalms and with Jesus as Lord and Messiah:
The kingdom of the world now belongs to our Lord and to his Anointed, and he will reign (βασιλεύσει) forever and ever. . . . We give thanks to you, Lord God almighty, who are and who were. For you have assumed your great power and have established your reign. The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for the dead to be judged, and to recompense your servants, the prophets, and the holy ones and those who fear your name, the small and the great alike, and to destroy those who destroy the earth. . . . . Alleluia! The Lord has established his reign (ἐβασίλευσεν), (our) God, the almighty.

*There can be some confusion between malak (melek)as "king" and malak as "angel" or "messenger." In Hebrew the words are very similar, yet are different words. The word מֶ֫לֶך (mlk) is "king." The word מַלְאָך (ml'k) is angel or messenger. The root for king is mlk (mem, lamed, kaf: מלך). The root for send is l'k (lamed, alef, kaf: לאכ). (Alef is a glottal stop.) It is from this root that the word for angel or "one sent" (malak or מלאך)is derived.
**Notably, the Greek word ἐβασίλευσεν (he reigns) was used by the translators of the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word
malak in the Enthronement Psalms. For example, in Psalm 93:1, 97:1, and 99:1, Yahweh malak (יְהוָה מָלָךְ) is translated as ὁ κύριος ἐβασίλευσεν. The Gospel of Luke and St. Paul seem clearly to point to the enthronement Psalms as well through their similar words.

No comments:

Post a Comment