Commentary on Psalm 131(132):1-10

“God and Man Walk Together in History”

Share this Entry

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 14, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to a meditation on Psalm 131(132).

* * *

1. We heard the first part of Psalm 131(132), a hymn that the Liturgy of Vespers offers us at two different times. Not a few scholars think that this song was heard in the solemn celebration of the transfer of the Lord’s ark, sign of the divine presence in the midst of the People of Israel, to Jerusalem, the new capital chosen by David.

In the account of this event, as referred to us by the Bible, we read that King David “girt with a linen apron, came dancing before the Lord with abandon, as he and all the Israelites were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and to the sound of the horn” (2 Samuel 6:14-15).

Other scholars, instead, relate Psalm 131(132) to a commemorative celebration of that ancient event, after the institution of worship in the sanctuary of Zion, in fact, the work of David.

2. Our hymn seems to imply a liturgical dimension: It was probably used during the course of a procession, with the presence of priests and faithful and the involvement of a choir.

Following the Liturgy of Vespers, we shall pause on the first 10 verses of the Psalm, those now proclaimed. In the heart of this section is the solemn oath of David. It is said, in fact, that he — leaving behind the sharp disagreement with his predecessor, King Saul — “swore an oath to the Lord, vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob” (Psalm 131[132]:2). The content of this solemn commitment, expressed in verses 3-5, is clear: The sovereign will not step into the royal palace of Jerusalem, will not go calmly to rest, unless he has first found a dwelling place for the ark of the Lord.

At the very center of social life there must be, therefore, a presence that evokes the mystery of the transcendent God. God and man walk together in history, and the temple has the task to point out this communion in a visible way.

3. At this point, after David’s words, is introduced, perhaps through the words of a liturgical choir, the memory of the past. Re-evoked, in fact, is the rediscovery of the ark in the country of Jaar, in the region of Ephrata (see verse 6): It remained there for a long time, after being restored by the Philistines to Israel, which had lost it during a battle (see 1 Samuel 7:1; 2 Samuel 6:2,11). For this reason, it was taken from the province to the future holy city and our passage ends with a festive celebration that shows, on one hand, the worshipping people (see Psalm 131[132]:7,9), that is the liturgical assembly and, on the other hand, the Lord who makes himself present and acting with the sign of the ark placed in Zion (see verse 8).

The soul of the liturgy is in this crossing between priests and faithful, on one hand, and the Lord with his power, on the other.

4. To seal the first part of Psalm 131(132) a prayerful acclamation is heard in favor of the king-successors of David: “For the sake of David your servant, do not reject your anointed” (verse 10).

It is easy to intuit a messianic dimension in this prayer, initially destined to implore support for the Jewish sovereign in life’s trials. The term “anointed” translates in fact the Hebrew term “Messiah”: the Psalmist’s gaze thus extends to other events of the kingdom of Judah and is projected toward the great expectation of the perfect “Anointed One,” the Messiah who will always be pleasing to God, loved and blessed by him.

5. This messianic interpretation will prevail in the Christian rereading and will be extended to the whole psalm.

Significant, for example, is the application that Ezechias of Jerusalem, a priest of the first half of the fifth century, makes of verse 8, to the Incarnation of Christ. In his Second Homily on the Mother of God, he addresses the Virgin thus: “Of you and of Him who was born of you, David does not cease to sing on the zither: ‘Arise, O Lord, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might’ (Psalm 131[132]:8).” Who is ‘the ark of thy might’? Ezechias responds: “Obviously the Virgin, the Mother of God. Because, if you are the pearl, she in good right is the ark; if you are the sun, the Virgin will necessarily be called heaven; and if you are the uncontaminated Flower, the Virgin will then be the plant of incorruption, paradise of immortality” (“Testi Mariani del Primo Millennio” [Marian Texts of the First Millennium] I, Rome, 1988, pp. 532-533).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father gave this summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this week’s catechesis, we consider the first part of Psalm 131. This psalm celebrates King David’s solemn transfer of the Ark of the Covenant, the sign of God’s presence among his People, to its resting-place in Jerusalem. David’s promise to build a temple for the ark reminds us that the mystery of God is meant to have a central place in the life of every society.

The ark and the temple are visible signs of God’s presence at every stage of our earthly pilgrimage, while every liturgical assembly celebrates the joyful encounter between God and humanity. The psalm goes on to pray for David’s anointed successors, which the Christian tradition has understood as a prophetic reference to Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah and King, the Incarnate Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary in the fullness of time for our salvation.

[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors present at today’s audience, including the many pilgrims from England, Ireland, Scotland, India, Indonesia, Japan, Puerto Rico and the United States. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy and peace.

Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation