850 AD to 870 AD, Psalm 90: Answer.

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temps shutterstock_24337156This generation is that of the 850s and the 860s.

To better understand this psalm, it is necessary to read first the commentary of the previous psalm, Psalm 89. Indeed, these two psalms are coupled (questioning / answer).
On the side of the Umayyads of Cordoba, it is Muhammad I (852-886) who succeeds his father Abd Al Rahman II (822-852). His reign is marked by a revolt of Toledo allied with the Prince of Asturias. Mate revolt but at the price of a battle that is nearly twenty thousand dead on the Toledan side. These internal rivalries will not really end until the end of the Christian « reconquista » of the Iberian Peninsula. They are a harbinger of the fragility of Muslim rule over the Iberian Peninsula.

The Christian empire [1] of the West divided into three kingdoms, those of Lothaire, Louis and Charles the Bald since the Treaty of Verdun in 843 is the subject of several threats: Lothaire undergoes Muslim attacks that go so far as to threaten Rome in 846. The Muslims are content to plunder the Basilica of St. Peter, they take many cities in Italy. It is also threatened by the Vikings who are multiplying incursions into Europe including Muslim Spain and the kingdoms of Louis and Charles.

To be stronger against the invaders, the three kings try to build a « European Union » before the letter to Thionville in 844, Meersen and finally (already) in Maastricht (847 and 851).

Charles_the_Bald_in_CombatDuring this generation, Louis seeks to invade the territory of Charles facing new Viking threats. With the support of the clergy and these vassals, Charles succeeds in preserving his territories. The advantages granted to the vassals initialize the feudal power which will be of setting throughout the Middle Ages. The kingdom of Lothaire is shared between his three sons at his death in 855.

On the Abbasid side, after the reign of al-Mutawakkil (847-863), four caliphs succeed each other in less than ten years: al-Muntasir (861-862), al-Musta’in (862-866), al-Mu ‘ tazz (866-869) then al-Muhtadi (869-870). As mentioned in the psalm of the previous generation, the reign of al-Mutawakkil corresponds to a strengthening of the exclusionary status of the Jews in the definition of the dhimmi.
This generation is also that of the rebirth of Byzantium with the end of iconoclasm.

Facial_Chronicle_-_b.13,_p.414_-_Photios_baptising_king_of_BulgarsThis revival is accompanied by a new advance of Christianity on pagan lands. Photios emissaries carry the « good word » in the Slavic countries, which by opening themselves to Christianity participate in the extension of the role of Europe in the history of the world, thus enlarging the « valley of weeping ».

On these new lands are created in the generations and centuries to come many Jewish communities.
Like the previous generation, this generation is a hinge generation. The break-up of the Carolingian Empire and the rebirth of the Byzantine Empire with its consequences on the emergence of the countries of Eastern Europe whose Slavic countries mark the blossoming of Europe.
This outbreak of Europe is refocusing the world. The ancient world was defined below a line materialized by Rome, Athens and Byzantium. The next world is defined above this line. The fourth book of Psalms corresponds to this shift in the world announcing for the Jewish people new destinies but also new misfortunes.
Ethan had complained to the previous psalm that the Jewish people had spent a millennium suffering while the same people had been steadily scoring during the same period to show their fidelity to God. Period initiated by the revolt of the Maccabees, that is to say the refusal of assimilation to Greek culture to the detriment of the Jewish religion.
Starting point that Jews celebrate from year to year by Hanukkah. In this generation, generation 39, the psalm was declaimed by David with Yedutun as a witness, another name of Ethan. To answer the « indictment » of Ethan, who above David could answer if not Moses himself. It is therefore naturally the latter who responds to Ethan in the present psalm.
Thus from the beginning of the psalm, Moses evokes the divine power and by this the perception that we can have of the real world is of course very different from what is established at the divine level. Thus the millennium evoked by Ethan in the previous psalm, taking into account the time difference between the two extreme psalms where this one is either author or taken to witness, is in fact for God only the equivalent of a moment :

(extract of the psalm 90 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 4 )

  • A prayer of Moses, the man of God. O Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
  • Before the mountains were born, and You brought forth the earth and the inhabited world, and from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
  • You bring man to the crushing point, and You say, « Return, O sons of men. »
  • For a thousand years are in Your eyes like yesterday, which passed, and a watch in the night.
The last sentence thus quoted associates the millennium with a guard of the night (« thousand years » / « watch in the night ».)
As we have already indicated, the night of Israel lasts three thousand years divided into three watches of each thousand years.
The thousand years evoked by Ethan of domination of the people of Israel by the peoples of the South (South of the Mediterranean) and beyond are straddling two of the guards of the night. The thousand years to come, almost initialized by the Treaty of Verdun see the domination of the Jewish people by the peoples of the North, until they begin to compete to make way for the rest of the world: America and Asia. Africa, it has had its golden age before the night begins.
Moses is the only man to have seen God face to face without perishing. From this meeting, he was able to perceive the mystery of life and death that remains secret for all other mortals.
What follows in the Psalm is a slight lifting of the veil on this mystery so that we can understand that the life we are focusing on is only ephemeral and remains only an artifice:

(extract of the psalm 90 associated to this generation, verses 5 to 7 )

  • You carry them away as a flood (men) ; they are like a sleep; in the morning, like grass it passes away.
  • In the morning, it blossoms and passes away; in the evening, it is cut off and withers.
  • For we perish from Your wrath, and from Your anger we are dismayed.
Before interpreting the rest of the psalm, we must return to an episode recorded in the exodus. Moses, after having favorably interceded with God after the episode of the golden calf, takes the opportunity to ask for a « personal » favor: to know the divine glory.
God responds favorably, but in a mysterious way:
  • And He said [2], « You will not be able to see My face, for man shall not see Me and live. »
  • And the Lord said: « Behold, there is a place with Me, and you shall stand on the rock.
  • And it shall be that when My glory passes by, I will place you into the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by.
  • Then I will remove My hand, and you will see My back but My face shall not be seen. »
As we have already interpreted previously, behind the divine « face » hides the mystery of life and death: when man sees the face of God it is because he has just finished his life and that he is about to go to the future world. That is why every man who sees God dies because this vision means that the earthly life has just ended.
This is what the continuation of the psalm expresses:

(extract of the psalm 90 associated to this generation, verses 8 and 9 )

 

  • You have placed our iniquities before You, [the sins of] our youth before the light of Your countenance.
  • For all our days have passed away in Your anger; we have consumed our years as a murmur.

 

We are attached to the material world because we do not know anything about the immaterial world. We can even doubt its existence because the only one we can apprehend is the world in which we are immersed since our birth.
In fact, we are attached to life on earth, even if it is negligible in duration in relation to the march of the world. Our effective life, that during which we can consider ourselves still actor does not exceed in the best case the seventy or eighty years. Those who go beyond this age are no more than spectators of a world that is no longer theirs.
We are implanted in a world that becomes fully ours at our maturity, about twenty years, this world remains ours for another one to two generations, twenty to forty years. We can still try to leave our mark for an additional generation is still twenty years. But, as we grow older, the world we are born into is fading away to make room for the world of future generations. We erase our landmarks in the image of all our loved ones who disappear. First of all the generations that preceded us and those of our generations.
The more this world disappears, and the more we become strangers to the new world that is taking place, death becomes a natural outlet, which if not necessarily desired becomes an expected and less feared deadline. All our dreams of power that fed us while we were in the prime of life then become derisory.
It is this cycle of relentless life that the sequel of the Psalm resumes in response to Ethan’s impatience:

(extract of the psalm 90 associated to this generation, verse 10 )

  • The days of our years because of them are seventy years, and if with increase, eighty years; but their pride is toil and pain, for it passes quickly and we fly away.
Moses, from his privileged position with God, knows better than anyone, including David himself, that it is the history and future of the world, what is the history and future of the Jewish people and especially what are all the mysteries of life. He can therefore conclude by stating that all the apparent misfortunes which have affected the Jewish people for so many generations and which will affect him for many more generations have only an initiatory goal allowing this same people to approach even more of its creator in order to access the real world that is intended for them.
This is what Moses expresses in the rest of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 90 associated to this generation, verses 11 to 17 )

 

  • Who knows the might of Your wrath, and according to Your fear is Your anger.
  • So teach the number of our days, so that we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.
  • Return, O Lord, how long? And repent about Your servants.
  • Satiate us in the morning with Your loving-kindness, and let us sing praises and rejoice with all our days.
  • Cause us to rejoice according to the days that You afflicted us, the years that we saw evil.
  • May Your works appear to Your servants, and Your beauty to their sons.
  • And may the pleasantness of the Lord our God be upon us, and the work of our hands establish for us, and the work of our hands establish it.

 

 

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[1] According to: Christian Bonnet and Christine Descatoire « The Carolingians (741-987) ». Chapter: « The dislocated empire (843-888) ». (French: « Les Carolingiens (741-987) ». Chapitre : « L’empire disloqué (843-888) ». (p. 82 à 88) ).

[2] Shemot – Exodus – Chapter 33, verses 20 to 23