Ruth Fidler, «A Touch of Support: Ps 3,6 and the Psalmist’s Experience», Vol. 86 (2005) 192-212
Vv. 5-6 mark a turning point in Psalm 3, both structurally
and thematically, probably reflecting a significant personal experience. Due to
the mention of sleeping and waking (v. 6a) this experience is sometimes
interpreted as a dream in which the psalmist got word of his imminent
deliverance. Recently supported by a Qumran parallel that mentions dreaming
explicitly (11QPsa xxiv 16-17;B. Schroeder,
Biblica 81  243-251), this argument nevertheless
seems questionable, given e.g. the tendency of later Judaism to attribute dreams
also to biblical figures that are not characterized in such terms in the Bible.
The main thrust of this article is to examine the psalm in comparison with
theophanic reports elsewhere in the Bible and in ANE literature. This analysis
shows the language of Psalm 3 to be compatible with an incubatory ritual that
culminates in a real experience of presence with a divine gesture of support.
These findings are related to the proximity to God that finds expression in the
206 Ruth Fidler
the general idea of divine support and protection (50) of the psalmist
without which he could not have survived the night or spent it
peacefully. The verb Ëšms signifying â€œsupport, sustain, helpâ€ is indeed
well attested in biblical Hebrew â€” Qal-transitive uses comparable to
Ps 3,6 occur in Isa 59,16; 63,5 (in both Ëšms is paralleled by [Ã§y Hiphil,
deliver) ; Ezek 30,6; Ps 54,6 (paralleled by rz[ help); 37,17; 119,116
â€” as well as in other Semitic languages (51). But Ëšms is also capable of
denoting more concrete support, even with God as subject: Thus God
is said to steady a personâ€™s hand to prevent his fall (Ps 37,24) and to
support someone who falls (Ps 145,14) (52). It can be argued that the
gesture intended here is not visible and that it can also be taken more
generally or even figuratively. Indeed, the possibility of interpreting it
â€œin either the concrete or the figurative senseâ€ (53) is what makes
Psalmsâ€™ phraseology so evasive and intriguing. Yet in Psalm 3 there is
the additional factor of the possibly causal link between the action
denoted by Ëšms and the waking of the psalmist. This sways the balance
somewhat towards a tangible gesture, as indeed found in some
experiences of â€œpresenceâ€ (54).
3. Close Encounters and Hand Gestures in Ancient Near Eastern
A comparison of Psalm 3 with several theophany reports in ancient
Near Eastern sources seems to support some of the observations made
above. It reveals that (a) A number of the theophanies whose relation
to dreams can be categorized as liminal (55) are experienced by
(50) If ynkmsy refers to the divine protection of the psalmist, this links v. 6b back
to v. 4a with the epithet yd[b Ë†gm â€œmy shieldâ€. Such a link finds a different
expression in LXX, which translates both expressions as â€œsupportâ€ and
â€œsupporterâ€ respectively, using cognate forms (ajntilhvmyetai and antilhmptwr)
that make rare or unique equivalents of these Hebrew lexemes. See PIETERSMA,
â€œWhen Dauid Fled Abessalomâ€, 652-655.
(51) D.P. WRIGHT â€“ J. MILGROM, â€œËšms, sËmak; hkymÃ§, Â¢emÃ®kÃ¢â€, TDOT X, 278-
279; J. HOFTIJZER â€“ K. JONGELING, Dictionary of the North-Semitic Inscriptions
(Leiden 1995) II, 792 (smk1); W. BAUMGARTNER et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic
Lexicon of the Old Testament (ed. M.E.J. RICHARDSON) (Leiden 1995) II, 759.
(52) As noted by Wright and Milgrom with their remarks on the semantic
range of Ëšms, â€œfrom physical supporting or leaning to the abstract notion of
helping and sustainingâ€; WRIGHT â€“ MILGROM, â€œËšms, sËmak; hkymÃ§, Â¢emÃ®kÃ¢â€, 279-
(53) Ibid., 279.
(54) JAMES, The Varieties of Religious Experience, 86-87.
(55) For the term and biblical examples see section 2 above.