Malchuyot: Is God King Now or Only in the Future?
The central motif of Rosh Hashanah is divine kingship. This theme is classically expressed in the Aleinu prayer, which originated as a piyyut (liturgical poem) within the Musaf Amidah of Rosh Hashanah as an introduction to the blasts of the shofar that proclaim God’s kingship (מלכויות). The Aleinu, as we know it, is composed of two distinct sections:
First Paragraph of Aleinu:
Only Israel Was Allotted to Worship God
The first section gives expression to a strong Jewish particularism. It is upon us (=aleinu), the text proclaims, to praise and glorify the creator of the universe (עָלֵינוּ לְשַׁבֵּחַ לַאֲדוֺן הַכֺּל). Israel, from the very outset of its formation, was divinely “made” for this very purpose of worshipping him.
שֶׁלּא שׂם חֶלְקֵנוּ כָּהֶם
וְגוֺרָלֵנוּ כְּכָל הֲמוֺנָם.
Who did not set our portion as theirs
Nor our lot as all of them.
In this, God distinguished Israel from the “nations of the lands,” who were assigned a different “lot” or “destiny.” This reflects Deuteronomy, which claims that God appointed these gods as objects of worship for the Gentiles, though not for Israel:
דברים ד:יט וּפֶן תִּשָּׂא עֵינֶיךָ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְרָאִיתָ אֶת הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְאֶת הַיָּרֵחַ וְאֶת הַכּוֹכָבִים כֹּל צְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם וְנִדַּחְתָּ וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ לָהֶם וַעֲבַדְתָּם אֲשֶׁר חָלַק יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֹתָם לְכֹל הָעַמִּים תַּחַת כָּל הַשָּׁמָיִם. ד:כ וְאֶתְכֶם לָקַח יְ-הוָה וַיּוֹצִא אֶתְכֶם מִכּוּר הַבַּרְזֶל מִמִּצְרָיִם לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם נַחֲלָה כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה.
Deut 4:19 And when you look up to the sky and behold the sun and the moon and the stars, the whole heavenly host, you must not be lured into bowing down to them or serving them. These YHWH your God allotted to other peoples everywhere under heaven; 4:20 but you YHWH took and brought out of Egypt, that iron blast furnace, to be His very own people, as is now the case.
דברים כט:כה וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיַּעַבְדוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲוּוּ לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְדָעוּם וְלֹא חָלַק לָהֶם.
Deut 29:25 they turned to the service of other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not experienced and whom He had not allotted to them.
Originally, these passages may have thought of these gods as minor deities, while Israel’s deity was greater than them. But this is not the view expressed in Aleinu:
שֶׁהֵם מִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לְהֶבֶל וְרִיק
וּמִתְפַּלְלִים אֶל אֵל לֺא יוֺשִׁיעַ.
וַאֲנַחְנוּ כּוֺרְעִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים וּמוֺדִים
לִפְנֵי מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים…
For they bow to vanity and emptiness
and pray to a god who cannot grant help.
But we bend the knee, bow, and give thanks
Before the king of the king of kings…
This follows biblical texts that state that these other gods are false. For example, the claim that the nations pray to a god “that cannot grant help” is borrowed from Deutero-Isaiah:
ישעיהו מה:כ הִקָּבְצוּ וָבֹאוּ הִתְנַגְּשׁוּ יַחְדָּו פְּלִיטֵי הַגּוֹיִם לֹא יָדְעוּ הַנֹּשְׂאִים אֶת עֵץ פִּסְלָם וּמִתְפַּלְלִים אֶל אֵל לֹא יוֹשִׁיעַ.
Isa 45:20 Come, gather together, Draw nigh, you remnants of the nations! No foreknowledge had they who carry their wooden images and pray to a godwho cannot grant help.
In a similar vein, Deuteronomy 4:28 taunts the Israelites about how they will be forced to serve these false gods when they are exiled, and the first paragraph of Aleinu concludes with a quote from this same chapter (v. 39):
דברים ד:לט וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ אֶל לְבָבֶךָ כִּי יְ-הוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וְעַל הָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת אֵין עוֹד.
Deut 4:39 Know therefore this day and keep in mind that YHWH alone is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other.
Aleinu combines the idea of God appointing other gods as objects of worship for the Gentiles, and that these gods did not exist. This results in its claim that God assigned the vanity and emptiness of idolatry to the nations of the world as their grim and undignified destiny.
Second Paragraph of Aleinu: All Will Worship and Accept God’s Kingship
The second section of the Aleinu, perhaps deriving from a later author, significantly tempers this strong particularism. It expresses an urgent anticipation for the imminent day when God will destroy all the idols of the world and turn “all the wicked ones of the earth” toward him. When God does this, all human beings will “accept” the yoke of God’s kingship and kneel before him as Israel does presently.
וְכָל בְּנֵי בָשָׂר יִקְרְאוּ בִשְׁמֶךָ
So that all the people of flesh will call upon Your name;
לְהַפְנוֹת אֵלֶיךָ כָּל רִשְׁעֵי אָרֶץ
All the wicked of the earth will turn to You
יַכִּירוּ וְיֵדְעוּ כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵבֵל.
All the inhabitants of the world will recognize and know
כִּי לְךָ תִּכְרַע כָּל בֶּרֶךְ תִּשָּבַע כָּל לָשׁוֹן.
That to You every knee will bend and every tongue vow.
לְפָנֶיךָ יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ יִכְרְעוּ וְיִפֹּלוּ
Before You, Lord our God, they will kneel and fall
וְלִכְבוֹד שִׁמְךָ יְקָר יִתֵּנוּ
And render glory to the honor of Your name.
וִיקַבְּלוּ כֻלָּם אֶת עֹל מַלְכוּתֶךָ
And all will accept the yoke of Your kingship
Like the previous section, this one posits a dichotomy between Israel and the rest of the world. However, it assumes that in the future, the rest of the world will come to recognize God and worship him.
Worshipping Other Gods – Sinful Even for Gentiles
The idea that idolatry or worship of gods other than YHWH is both foolish and sinful, not just for Israel but for the nations of the world as well, is expressed in several biblical passages. In Psalm 115:5-8 (=135:15-18), the famous Hallel passage ridicules idols:
תהלים קטו:ה פֶּה לָהֶם וְלֹא יְדַבֵּרוּ
עֵינַיִם לָהֶם וְלֹא יִרְאוּ.
קטו:ו אָזְנַיִם לָהֶם וְלֹא יִשְׁמָעוּ
אַף לָהֶם וְלֹא יְרִיחוּן.
קטו:ז יְדֵיהֶם וְלֹא יְמִישׁוּן
רַגְלֵיהֶם וְלֹא יְהַלֵּכוּ
לֹא יֶהְגּוּ בִּגְרוֹנָם.
Ps 115:5 They have mouths but cannot speak,
Eyes but cannot see;
115:6 They have ears but cannot hear,
Noses but cannot smell;
115:7 They have hands but cannot touch,
Feet but cannot walk;
They can make no sound in their throats.
The Psalmist then goes on to say:
תהלים קטו:ח כְּמוֹהֶם יִהְיוּ עֹשֵׂיהֶם כֹּל אֲשֶׁר בֹּטֵחַ בָּהֶם.
Ps 115:8 Those who fashion them, all who trust in them, shall become like them.
Idolaters are thus culpable for their religious idiocy and worthy of death!
Similarly, we read in Jeremiah 50:35-38,
ירמיה נ:לה חֶרֶב עַל כַּשְׂדִּים נְאֻם יְהוָה וְאֶל יֹשְׁבֵי בָבֶל וְאֶל שָׂרֶיהָ וְאֶל חֲכָמֶיהָ. נ:לח …כִּי אֶרֶץ פְּסִלִים הִיא וּבָאֵימִים יִתְהֹלָלוּ.
Jer 50:35 A sword is against the Chaldeans, says YHWH, against the inhabitants of Babylon, against its officials and its wise men. 50:38 …for it is the land of carved images, and they are insane with their idols.
Such verses suggest that worship of other gods is not the intended destiny of the nations, but an aberration that God will ultimately have to fix.
Partial Contemporary Kingship and Full Future Kingship
What is the conception of “kingship” that the Aleinu, taken as a whole, expresses? Clearly, the kingship of the Aleinu is an eschatological, future-oriented kingship. In the present, God’s kingship is recognized by Israel alone and it is Israel’s worship alone that attests to it. Only in the anticipated future, when “all will accept the yoke of your kingship so that you serve as king over them” will God truly “reign in glory.”
The Aleinu prayer thus suggests that the enthronement of God that we enact through the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a partial and penultimate one. At least in part, its intent seems to be to goad God into commencing the eschatological completion of his kingship, when, in the words of Zechariah which cap the Aleinu prayer:
זכריה יד:ט וְהָיָה יְ-הוָה לְמֶלֶךְ עַל כָּל הָאָרֶץ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִהְיֶה יְ-הוָה אֶחָד וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד.
Zech 14:9 And YHWH shall be king over all the earth; in that day there shall be one YHWH with one name.
Indeed, the eschatological aspect of the blowing of the shofar finds expression in the Shofarotliturgy, such as the quotation from Isaiah 18:3:
ישעיהו יח:ג כָּל יֹשְׁבֵי תֵבֵל
כִּנְשֹׂא נֵס הָרִים תִּרְאוּ
וְכִתְקֹעַ שׁוֹפָר תִּשְׁמָעוּ.
Isa 18:3 All you who live in the world
And inhabit the earth,
When a flag is raised in the hills, take note!
When a ram’s horn is blown, give heed!”
It is telling that this chapter in Isaiah ends with the peoples of the world bringing tribute to YHWH in Zion.
ישעיהו יח:ז בָּעֵת הַהִיא יוּבַל שַׁי לַיהוָה צְבָאוֹת עַם מְמֻשָּׁךְ וּמוֹרָט וּמֵעַם נוֹרָא מִן הוּא וָהָלְאָה גּוֹי קַו קָו וּמְבוּסָה אֲשֶׁר בָּזְאוּ נְהָרִים אַרְצוֹ אֶל מְקוֹם שֵׁם יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת הַר צִיּוֹן.
Isaiah 18:7 At that time, tribute shall be brought to YHWH of Hosts from a people far and remote, from a people thrust forth and away — a nation of gibber and chatter, whose land is cut off by streams — at the place where the name of YHWH of Hosts abides, at Mount Zion.
Psalm 47 and Current Divine Kingship
A very different conception of divine kingship on Rosh Hashanah is expressed, I believe, in Psalm 47. This text introduces the blowing of the Shofar that precedes the Musaf service. It is immediately apparent why this Psalm was chosen to introduce the first set of Shofar blasts:
Teruah – Vv. 1 and 5 of the psalm use term teruah, which can referring to calling out or a type of blast on a horn. In the latter verse it refers to the shofar explicitly (see underlined words).
Kingship – The psalm explicitly refers to the central motif of Rosh Hashanah, the kingship of God (see bolded words):
תהלים מז:א לַמְנַצֵּחַ לִבְנֵי קֹרַח מִזְמוֹר.
Ps 47:1 For the leader. Of the Korahites. A psalm.
מז:ב כָּל הָעַמִּים תִּקְעוּ כָף הָרִיעוּ לֵאלֹהִים בְּקוֹל רִנָּה. מז:ג כִּי יְ-הוָה עֶלְיוֹן נוֹרָא מֶלֶךְ גָּדוֹל עַל כָּל הָאָרֶץ. מז:דיַדְבֵּר עַמִּים תַּחְתֵּינוּ וּלְאֻמִּים תַּחַת רַגְלֵינוּ. מז:ה יִבְחַר לָנוּ אֶת נַחֲלָתֵנוּ אֶת גְּאוֹן יַעֲקֹב אֲשֶׁר אָהֵב סֶלָה.
47:2 All you peoples, clap your hands, raise a joyous shout for God. 47:3 For YHWH Most High is awesome, great king over all the earth; 47:4 He subjects peoples to us, sets nations at our feet. 47:5He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom He loved. Selah.
מז:ו עָלָה אֱלֹהִים בִּתְרוּעָה יְ-הֹוָה בְּקוֹל שׁוֹפָר. מז:ז זַמְּרוּ אֱלֹהִים זַמֵּרוּ זַמְּרוּ לְמַלְכֵּנוּ זַמֵּרוּ. מז:ח כִּי מֶלֶךְ כָּל הָאָרֶץ אֱלֹהִים זַמְּרוּ מַשְׂכִּיל. מז:ט מָלַךְ אֱלֹהִים עַל גּוֹיִם אֱלֹהִים יָשַׁב עַל כִּסֵּא קָדְשׁוֹ.
47:6 God ascends midst a shout; YHWH, to the blasts of the horn. 47:7 Sing to God, O sing; sing to our king, O sing; 47:8 for God is king over all the earth; sing a hymn. 47:9 God reigns over the nations; God is seated on His holy throne.
מז:י נְדִיבֵי עַמִּים נֶאֱסָפוּ עַם אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם כִּי לֵאלֹהִים מָגִנֵּי אֶרֶץ מְאֹד נַעֲלָה.
47:10 The great of the peoples are gathered together, the retinue of Abraham’s God; for the guardians of the earth belong to God; He is greatly exalted.
The theme of the coronation, or “enthronement” of God is also implied by v. 5, “God ascends with a shout, YHWH with the sound of the Shofar.”
Coronation of King with Shofar Blast
As is often noted, coronation of human kings are accompanied by shouting (תרועה) or the sounding of the shofar (cf. 1 Sam 10:24; 1 Kgs 1:34).
שמואל א י:כד וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל כָּל הָעָם הַרְּאִיתֶם אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר בּוֹ יְהוָה כִּי אֵין כָּמֹהוּ בְּכָל הָעָםוַיָּרִעוּ כָל הָעָם וַיֹּאמְרוּ יְחִי הַמֶּלֶךְ.
1 Sam 10:24 And Samuel said to the people, “Do you see the one whom YHWH has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.” And all the people called out, and they said, “Long live the king!”
מלכים א א:לט וַיִּקַּח צָדוֹק הַכֹּהֵן אֶת קֶרֶן הַשֶּׁמֶן מִן הָאֹהֶל וַיִּמְשַׁח אֶת שְׁלֹמֹה וַיִּתְקְעוּ בַּשּׁוֹפָר וַיֹּאמְרוּ כָּל הָעָם יְחִי הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה.
1 Kings 1:39 The priest Zadok took the horn of oil from the Tent and anointed Solomon. They sounded the horn and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon!”
מלכים ב ט:יג וַיְמַהֲרוּ וַיִּקְחוּ אִישׁ בִּגְדוֹ וַיָּשִׂימוּ תַחְתָּיו אֶל גֶּרֶם הַמַּעֲלוֹת וַיִּתְקְעוּ בַּשּׁוֹפָר וַיֹּאמְרוּ מָלַךְ יֵהוּא.
2 Kings 9:13 Quickly each man took his cloak and placed it under him, on the top step. They sounded the horn and proclaimed, “Jehu is king!”
In all likelihood, the “ascension” of God refers to that which is stated in verse 8: “God sits on his heavenly throne” (see in this connection 2 Sam 6:15).
God Is King of All the Earth Now
The conception of divine kingship here is fundamentally different from that of the Aleinu. In Psalm 47, the full kingship of God is not an eschatological hope, but a present reality. God is “king of all the earth” right now! Israel is not the only one that recognizes and proclaims this. Rather, “all the peoples” do so as well! Indeed, “gathered” at the Temple for the coronation ceremony are the “great of the peoples,” that is, the rulers of the nations (v. 10).
Accepting God While Worshipping other Gods
But what about their foreign gods? Have the gods of the nations really disappeared from the face of the earth, as the prayer of Aleinu so eagerly anticipates? The psalm nowhere indicates this, nor does it say that the leaders of the nations, who are described as God’s retinue, reject their ancestral deities. How, then, are we to account for the Psalm’s celebration of God’s present kingship over all the earth?
Apparently, worship of other gods does not detract, in the view of this psalm, from God’s universal kingship. The psalm, it appears, reflects a much more inclusive and tolerant approach toward the various “religions” of the world and toward their gods.
An analysis of a few of the passages in the Psalm will help us understand this conception more fully.
A. The Gods Sing to God
Verse 7 reads, זַמְּרוּ אֱלֹהִים זַמֵּרוּ זַמְּרוּ לְמַלְכֵּנוּ זַמֵּרוּ. Most English translations render this as “Sing to God, O sing; sing to our king, O sing.” While this translation is possible, it is important to note that there is no lamed, “to,” before אלוהים. Furthermore, it is not clear who would be addressed in the verse. Thus, a more natural rendition of the verse is: “Sing, O gods, sing; sing to our king, O sing.”
This verse is similar to other passages that depict other divinities showing obeisance before God. A classic example of this is found in the opening of Psalm 29:
תהלים כט:א …הָבוּ לַי-הוָה בְּנֵי אֵלִים
הָבוּ לַי-הוָה כָּבוֹד וָעֹז.
כט:ב הָבוּ לַי-הוָה כְּבוֹד שְׁמוֹ
הִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לַי-הוָה בְּהַדְרַת קֹדֶשׁ.
Ps 29:1 …Acknowledge YHWH, you heavenly beings,
Acknowledge YHWH’s majesty and power!
29:2 Acknowledge the majesty of YHWH’s glory!
Bow down to YHWH in holy attire!
In this conception, the divine beings of the world are not empty, non-existent vanities whose idols or plastic representations must be removed from the world. They are real divine beings with a significant measure of authority and importance. If they were thoroughly insignificant, they would not be depicted as singing God’s praises and bowing down to his presence.
The idea that YHWH is the supreme God, and above other gods is also reflected in Deuteronomy:
דברים י:יז כִּי יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הוּא אֱלֹהֵי הָאֱלֹהִים וַאֲדֹנֵי הָאֲדֹנִים הָאֵל הַגָּדֹל הַגִּבֹּר וְהַנּוֹרָא…
Deut 10:17 For YHWH your God is God supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God…
The implication of these verses is that if YHWH is supreme over other gods, and those gods acknowledge this supremacy, then the nations who worship these gods implicitly worship YHWH as well. There is, thus, hardly any need for these gods to be rejected or disappear, and there is surely no reason to refer to their worshippers as “the wicked of the earth.”
Indeed, as Ps 47:7 clearly implies, these deities participate, together with the rulers of the nations that worship them, in the very coronation of God!
B. The Retinue of Abraham’s God
Psalm 47:10 refers to the gathered greats of the nations as עם אלוהי אברהם, “the retinue (or “people”) of the God of Abraham.” What is the implication of this odd phrase? The answer, I believe, is that when God renames Abram Abraham, and makes a covenant with him, he blesses him with:
בראשית יז:ה …כִּי אַב הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם נְתַתִּיךָ. יז:ו וְהִפְרֵתִי אֹתְךָ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד וּנְתַתִּיךָ לְגוֹיִם וּמְלָכִים מִמְּךָ יֵצֵאוּ.
Gen 17:5 … for I make you the father of a multitude of nations.17:6 I will make you exceedingly fertile, and make nations of you; and kings shall come forth from you.
What is more, this covenant is followed with:
בראשית יז:ז וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת בְּרִיתִי בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ לְדֹרֹתָם לִבְרִית עוֹלָם לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לֵאלֹהִים וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ.
Gen 17:7 I will confirm my covenant as a perpetual covenant between me and you. It will extend to your descendants after you throughout their generations. I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”
These verses suggest that Elohim (God) commits himself to serving as deity for all of the kings and nations descending from Abraham without demanding that these kings and nations must worship Elohim to the exclusion of all other deities.
C. Jerusalem: The Pride of Jacob
Verse 5 includes two enigmatic phrases:
מז:ה יִבְחַר לָנוּ אֶת נַחֲלָתֵנוּ [תה”ש: נחלתו] אֶת גְּאוֹן יַעֲקֹב אֲשֶׁר אָהֵב סֶלָה.
47:5 He chose our [LXX: His] heritage for us,
The pride of Jacob whom He loved. Selah.
What is the “heritage” and “pride of Jacob”? The phrase “God’s inheritance” appears in Psalm 79:1 in parallel to the Temple and the city of Jerusalem:
תהלים עט:א …אֱלֹהִים בָּאוּ גוֹיִם בְּנַחֲלָתֶךָ
טִמְּאוּ אֶת הֵיכַל קָדְשֶׁךָ
שָׂמוּ אֶת יְרוּשָׁלִַם לְעִיִּים.
Ps 79:1 “God, nations have entered your inheritance
they have defiled your holy temple,
they have placed Jerusalem in ruins.”
The idea that God’s inheritance (following the LXX text) is Jerusalem is further supported by the parallel with Psalm 78:68:
תהלים עח:סח וַיִּבְחַר אֶת שֵׁבֶט יְהוּדָה אֶת הַר צִיּוֹן אֲשֶׁר אָהֵב.
Ps 78:68 “he chose the tribe of Judah, Mt. Zion which he loves.”
If “God’s inheritance” is Jerusalem or the Temple, this would imply that the phrase גאון יעקב, “pride of Jacob” is also a reference to the Temple or Jerusalem. Indeed, in an important article, Joel Burnett, a contemporary Bible scholar from Baylor University, convincingly demonstrates that the “pride of Jacob” does refer here to the city of Jerusalem and its temple. Burnett argues that this usage fits with the general use of “pride (גאון) of X,” which most often refers to great national cities in which their citizens take pride (cf., e.g., Isa 13:19; Zech 10:11).
But why is the Jerusalem setting so significant?
1. Cosmopolitan Jerusalem
First, Jerusalem appears to have had a cosmopolitan and universalistic character to it. Testimony to this is the (difficult to understand) text of Psalm 87, which extols the greatness and special sanctity of Zion. Verses 4-6 read:
תהלים פז:ד אַזְכִּיר רַהַב וּבָבֶל לְיֹדְעָי הִנֵּה פְלֶשֶׁת וְצוֹר עִם כּוּשׁ זֶה יֻלַּד שָׁם. פז:ה וּלֲצִיּוֹן יֵאָמַר אִישׁ וְאִישׁ יֻלַּד בָּהּ וְהוּא יְכוֹנְנֶהָ עֶלְיוֹן. פז:ו יְ-הוָה יִסְפֹּר בִּכְתוֹב עַמִּים זֶה יֻלַּד שָׁם סֶלָה.
Ps 87:4 Among those who know me (=Zion) I mention Rahab (=Egypt) and Babylon; Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia, “This one was born there,” [they say]. 87:5 And of Zion it is said, “This one and that one were born in it”; for the Most High himself will establish it. 87:6 The Lord records, as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.” Selah.
The text implies that the variegated nationals that populate Jerusalem are all deemed natives that were born in God’s city. National identity is trumped here by devotion to the city of God. This is why, according to this psalm,
תהלים פז:ב אֹהֵב יְ-הוָה שַׁעֲרֵי צִיּוֹן מִכֹּל מִשְׁכְּנוֹת יַעֲקֹב.
Ps 87:2 YHWH loves the gates of Zion more than all the sanctuaries of Jacob.
Perhaps it is this all-inclusive, Zion-centered spirituality that carries over into later prophetic visions such as that of Isaiah 56:7,
שעיה נו:ז וַהֲבִיאוֹתִים אֶל הַר קָדְשִׁי וְשִׂמַּחְתִּים בְּבֵית תְּפִלָּתִי עוֹלֹתֵיהֶם וְזִבְחֵיהֶם לְרָצוֹן עַל מִזְבְּחִי כִּי בֵיתִי בֵּית תְּפִלָּה יִקָּרֵא לְכָל הָעַמִּים.
Isa 56:7 I will bring them to my holy mountain; I will make them happy in the temple where people pray to me. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my temple will be known as a temple where all nations may pray.
In sum, the religious inclusivism of Ps 47 may well be rooted in its universalist “Zionist” setting.
2. Association with Abraham and the Priest of Elyon
Second, the association of Psalm 47 with Jerusalem ties in nicely with the psalm’s mention of Abraham. According to Genesis 14:18-20, after Abraham defeated the four Mesopotamian kings and rescued his nephew Lot,
בראשית יד:יח וּמַלְכִּי צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם הוֹצִיא לֶחֶם וָיָיִן וְהוּא כֹהֵן לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן. יד:יט וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ וַיֹּאמַר בָּרוּךְ אַבְרָם לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ.יד:כ וּבָרוּךְ אֵל עֶלְיוֹן אֲשֶׁר מִגֵּן צָרֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ וַיִּתֶּן לוֹ מַעֲשֵׂר מִכֹּל.
Gen 14:18 And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. 14:19 He blessed him, saying, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 14:20 And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your foes into your hand.” AndAbram gave him a tenth of everything.
Though El-Elyon is identified as creator of heaven and earth, the narrator makes no attempt to identify him with YHWH of Israel. The people in Jerusalem in the time of Abraham could hardly have been thought of by the narrator or his listeners as proto-Israelites. It is most natural to understand the “El-Elyon” of the narrative as referring to the supreme head of the pantheon in Canaanite religion.
The fact that Abraham is presented as sponsoring Melchizedek and his cult is one more indication of the religiously open and accommodating approach of some of the traditions surrounding Jerusalem, including that of Psalm 47.
Multiple Forms of God’s Kingship on Rosh Hashanah
The Rosh Hashanah liturgy is multi-vocal. Some liturgical texts express a conception of divine kingship that sees humanity as uniting in the worship of God in the future, eschatological era, when the Israelite deity replaces all others. In the meantime, we must wait for the triumph of our God and remember that we are the torchbearers of the kingdom of God.
While many committed Jews follow the thrust of this approach and emphasize the need to separate from other religions (see, for example, the classic essay of Rav Soloveitchik “Confrontation”), we should recall that divine kingship can mean something very different.
When we hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah we may feel a sense of kinship with our co-religionists, the “Am Elohei Avraham.” These people may worship the Almighty under different names, but they ultimately accept the yoke of heaven. Perhaps we may also hear in the shofar a wake-up call to stop waiting for God’s eschatological intervention to bring about religious uniformity, but rather to start seeing now the deeper sense of spiritual unity behind the diversity of many religions.
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Dr. Rabbi David Frankel did his Ph.D. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of Professor Moshe Weinfeld. His publications include The Murmuring Stories of the Priestly School (VTSupp. 89) and The Land of Canaan and the Destiny of Israel (Eisenbrauns). He teaches Hebrew Bible to M.A. and Rabbinical students at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
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