Commentary on Psalm 131(132)11-18

On the Transfer of the Ark of the Covenant

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 21, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience, dedicated to a commentary on Psalm 131(132):11-18.

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1. The second part of Psalm 131(132) has just resounded. It is a song that evokes an important event in the history of Israel: the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant to the city of Jerusalem.

David was the author of this transfer, as is testified by the first part of the psalm which we have already commented. The king had already made his oath to not install himself in the royal palace until he had found a proper place for the ark of God, the sign of the Lord’s presence among his people (cfr. vv. 3-5).

Now God himself responds to the vow made by the king, “The Lord swore an oath to David, a pledge never to be broken” (v. 11). This solemn promise is substantially the same that the prophet Nathan had already made in God’s name regarding the David’s future descendants, destined to stable reign (see 2 Samuel 7:8-16).

2. The divine oath implies human commitment, in such a way that it is conditioned by an “if”; “If your sons observe my covenant, the laws I shall teach them” (v. 12). To God’s promise and gift, which has nothing magical about it, there must be a response of faithful and active adherence on the part of man in a dialogue that weaves two freedoms, the divine and human.

From here the psalm is transformed into a hymn that exalts the incredible effects of both the Lord’s gift and the fidelity of Israel. The presence of God will be felt among the people (see vv. 13-14). He will become like an inhabitant among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, like a citizen who lives the events of history with the other citizens, but offering the might of his blessing.

3. God will bless the harvests, taking care that the poor have their fill (see v.15); he will cover the priests with his protective cloak, offering them his salvation; he will make all of the faithful live in peace and joy (see v. 16).

His most intense blessing is once again reserved for David and his descendants: “There I will make a horn sprout for David’s line; I will set a lamp for my anointed. His foes I will clothe with shame, but on him my crown shall gleam.”

Once again, as happened in the first part of the psalm (see v. 10), the figure of the “anointed” enters the scene, in Hebrew, “Messiah,” tying David’s lineage to the Messiah, which in the Christian rereading finds its fulfillment in the figure of Christ. The images used here are lively: David is represented as a horn sprout that grows vigorously. God illuminates David’s lineage with a brilliant lamp, symbol of vitality and glory; a splendid crown will mark his triumph over his enemies and thus the victory over evil.

4. The double presence of the Lord in a place and in history is brought about through Jerusalem, in the temple that holds the ark, and in the dynasty of David. Thus Psalm 131(132) becomes a celebration of God — Emmanuel who is with his creatures, lives among them and makes them good because they remain united to him in justice and truth. The spiritual center of this hymn thus become a prelude to John’s proclamation, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14).

We conclude remembering that the beginning of this second part of Psalm 131(132) has been habitually used by the Fathers of the Church to describe the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As early as St. Irenaeus, referring to Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the virgin giving birth, explained, “The words, ‘Listen, therefore, O house of David’ (Isaiah 7:13) indicate that the eternal king that God had promised to David to rise up from ‘the fruit of his womb,’ an expression that indicates a pregnant virgin. Therefore Scripture … proposes and affirms that the birth of the proclaimed ‘one who was to come’ would come from the Virgin. Exactly as Elizabeth, full of the Holy Spirit confirmed saying to Mary, ‘Blessed are you among all women and blessed is the fruit of your womb’ (Luke 1:42). Thus the Holy Spirit indicates to those who want to listen that in the birth of the Virgin, in other words, of Mary, the promise made by God to David to bring forth a king from the fruit of his womb, is fulfilled” (“Contro le eresie,” 3,21,5: Già e Non Ancora, CCCXX, Milan 1997, p. 285).

In this way, we see God’s truthfulness and fidelity in the great span that goes from the ancient psalm to the incarnation of the Lord. In this Psalm, the mystery of God who lives among us appears and shines forth as he becomes one of us in the Incarnation. God’s fidelity and our trust in the turns of history become a source of joy for us.

[After the address, the Pope gave this summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we focus our attention on Psalm 113 which reminds us of one of the most important events in the history of Israel, namely the transfer of the Ark of the Lord to the City of Jerusalem. King David promised to find a permanent place for the ark, symbolizing God’s presence among his people, before he would build a palace for himself.

His oath receives the Lord’s approval in God’s promise never to “go back on his word,” echoing the prophecy he made through Nathan to establish David’s kingdom forever. God’s people are urged to remain faithful to his covenant, entering into a dialogue that links human and divine freedom.

Once again the figure of the Consecrated-one, the Messiah, enters the picture. Christians will later see the fulfillment of this figure in the person of Christ. We conclude by recalling that this psalm was often used by the Fathers of the Church to describe the incarnation of the Word in the Womb of the Virgin Mary.

As St. Irenaeus said, “she completed the promise made by God to David, bringing forth a king as the fruit of her womb.” May we, like Mary, always respond to God’s covenant with joy and perseverance.

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at this audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Malta and the United States of America. In a special way I greet the chaplains from the Military Archdiocese of the United States. I also extend a warm welcome to the participants of the 5th European Ecumenical Conference on China. Upon all of you I invoke the Lord’s blessings of peace and joy.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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