Psalm 65 – The Rich Blessing of God & A Ugaritic Prayer for a City Under Siege

To the chief Musician, A Psalm and Song of David.

1 Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed.

2 O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.

3 Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away.

4 Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.

By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea:

6 Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power:

7 Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.

8 They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice.

9 Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it.

10 Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof.

11 Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.

12 They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side.

13 The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.

An invitation to praise God.  Experiencing Zion, the church, as the unique place of praise and prayer.

A Ugaritic Prayer for a City Under Siege

Ugarit was an ancient port city at the Ras Shamra headland in northern Syria.
Ugarit had close connections to the Hittite Empire, sent tribute to Egypt at times, and maintained trade and diplomatic connections with Cyprus (then called Alashiya), documented in the archives recovered from the site and corroborated by Mycenaean and Cypriot pottery found there.

The polity was at its height from ca. 1450 B.C. until 1200 B.C.

History
Ras Shamra lies on the Mediterranean coast, some 11 kilometres (7 mi) north of Latakia, near modern Burj al-Qasab.

Though the site is thought to have been inhabited earlier, Neolithic Ugarit was already important enough to be fortified with a wall early on, perhaps by 6000 B.C.

Ugarit was important perhaps because it was both a port and at the entrance of the inland trade route to the Euphrates and Tigris lands.

The city reached its heyday between 1800 and 1200 B.C., when it ruled a trade-based coastal kingdom, trading with Egypt, Cyprus, the Aegean, Syria, the Hittites, and much of the eastern Mediterranean.

In the ancient Near East warfare was frequent and often came close to home.  Thus it is not surprising that religious texts from the ancient world often include prayers for victory over enemies.  Psalms such as Ps 65 reflect this tendency: David either prayed for victory for himself or for Jerusalem.

An Ugaritic text gives us insight into how followers of Baal sought the aid of their god in times of war.  This text is known as RS 24.266 (“RS” stands for “Ras Shamra,” the place at which the Ugaritic tablets were discovered).

The Nature of the Ugaritic Prayer Text
This text has two parts:

A prose portion describes how rituals for seeking Baal’s help against enemies were to be conducted.  Among other stipulations, the instructions include directions about the appropriate dates for ritual prayers, as well as about which animals were to be offered on those dates.

A poetic portion provides the prayer that was to be recited.  It appeals for Baal to protect the walls of the city and devotes considerable attention to promise by the people to make various sacrifices to Baal if he would defend the city during a time of war. 

Some scholars suggest that the prayer includes a promise to make a human sacrifice to Baal, but the text is unclear and more likely denotes an animal sacrifice.

The Value of the Ugaritic Prayer Text
This text is helpful for Biblical readers for several reasons:

The Temple of Baal at Ugarit
Some of Ugarit’s most remarkable finds were uncovered around this temple dedicated to the chief Caananite god, Baal.

These finds came in the form of temple lists and prayer books which give us an unrivalled view of how the economy and ritual of temples operated at this time.

In addition the ‘prayer books’, literally religious chants, are our best evidence of the belief system of the Caananites.

These song cycles, recorded on clay tablets, opens a window into the world of the Caananites (the Semitic people of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan) who were influential in the evolution of Hebrew, and hence, Christian religions.

It illustrates the fact that ancient texts could be quite complex, containing both prose ritual instruction and poetic liturgy.  Biblical scholars sometimes argue that a passage containing both prose and poetry must have been written by at least two authors.  This wrongly assumes that ancient writers never produced complex texts: We see clear evidence in the Ugaritic texts that they did.

The content of the Ugaritic prayer, calling for help from one’s god, is paralleled in David’s prayer for Zion in Psalm 65.  The Ugaritic text is older than the Biblical psalm, indicating that there is no reason to suppose that the psalms and prayers should be treated as late compositions (many reject the idea of Davidic authorship for the psalms and argue that these sophisticated prayers and liturgies must have come from a very late date).  If such prayer-texts existed prior to David’s time, there is no reason to think they could not have existed during this period.

The Ugaritic text reminds us that the enemies the psalmist faced were not metaphors for spiritual struggles but flesh and blood foes who sought to kill the Israelites and destroy their cities.  the Ugaritic prayer is clearly about real warfare.

Excavated ruins at Ras Shamra

The theological content of the Ugaritic prayer over against the Biblical psalms is illustrating.  in the Ugaritic text Baal is to some extent bribed with promises of bounteous sacrifices, such an approach is explicitly rejected in the Bible (e.g., 51:16-19). 

Instead the psalmists appeal to God’s righteousness and covenant faithfulness, as in 65:4-5.  No one can buy off the God of the Bible.