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Notes on Revelation

Psalm 102 — The Holocaust Psalm?


May, 2001

Psalm 102 — The Holocaust Psalm?

David Dolan is an American journalist who has lived and worked in Jerusalem since 1980. In his most recent book, Israel in Crisis: What Lies Ahead? he tells the reader that he gets many questions dealing with modern Israel's rebirth as a sign that the prophesied end of the age is upon us. The one portion of Scripture that he quotes to verify this belief to those that ask this question is Psalm 102. After a time of personal study he has come to believe that this particular Psalm predicted the Holocaust and the subsequent restoration of Jerusalem and that the generation that witnessed these events will also be the generation that sees the Lord coming back to reign in his Holy City.

The following is a brief study of Psalm 102 using some of his ideas and comments as presented in his book. Dolan is not dogmatic in any of his viewpoints. His style is non-confrontational. He simply shares his findings and presents them as best he can. The reader can take them or leave them. I'll do the same here. They are being shared with you now as simply something for you to reflect upon in your studies. I hope you find them at least interesting, if not useful.

 

Psalm 102:1-3 
"Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee. Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily. For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth."

Surely the last line of this passage reminds us of the horrors of the Holocaust and the death camps where prisoners were thrown into the crematoria?

While the phrase "like smoke" appears in the KJV, and most of the modern translations as well, the original Hebrew, as Dolan argues, reads "in smoke." Young's Literal Translation of the Bible would seem to confirm this:

"For consumed in smoke have been my days, 
And my bones as a fire-brand have burned."

The Hebrew word for smoke is "ashan" (Strong's 6227). Its root word means simply "to smoke either literally or figuratively." Metaphorically in the Bible it is used to describe God's anger.

Aside from any knowledge of the Hebrew language the reader may have, the context itself would seem to indicate that "in smoke" is the preferred translation if taking a literal viewpoint, which is the primary usage of the word. Its figurative usage is secondary. Note that the author of Psalm 102 says that his "bones are burned" and thus the smoke he refers to is directly related to this. In other words, his burning bones are the source of the smoke and so his days are literally consumed "in" smoke, not "like" smoke.

The next interesting portion of Psalm 102 that lends credibility to Dolan's claim that this portion of Scripture is describing the Holocaust occurs in verses 4 and 5:

Psalm 102:4-5 
My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread. By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin.

This, as Dolan explains, reminds us of the starvation that the prisoners of the death camps went through. My mind immediately recalls the pictures I've seen of emaciated bodies huddled near a barbed-wire fence in a death camp somewhere. According to Dolan, starvation was the main cause of death at the German Buchenwald camp.

Buchenwald, one of the largest concentration camps in Germany, was established in 1937 as an area to hold political detainees and criminals. It later developed into a camp for "asocial elements." But it wasn't until the war broke out that a major influx of Jewish prisoners arrived to the camp.

Buchenwald, like Dachau and other concentration camps on German soil, was never an annihilation camp for the Jews. In this it differed from the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex built in Poland, one of the sites where millions were systematically exterminated. Though many Jews died at Buchenwald, particularly in 1945 after being forced to march from other camps farther east, its primary purpose was the imprisonment and torture of anyone opposed to the regime. [1]

In verse 4, the phrase "so that I forget to eat my bread" threw me off in that it didn't seem to go along with a forced starvation scenario, until I looked at the Hebrew definitions. The Hebrew word that has been translated "forget" is shakach or shakeach, which according to Strong's definitions means "to mislay, that is, to be oblivious of, from want of memory or attention."

But from Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions we get a broader picture of what this word tries to convey:

1) to forget, ignore, wither 
1a1) to forget 
1a2) to cease to care 
1b) to be forgotten 
1c) to cause to forget 
1d) to make or cause to forget 
1e) to be forgotten

The underlying Hebrew meaning of "forget" is more than a simple memory lapse.

Continuing our study into Psalm 102:

Psalm 102:8-9 
"Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me. For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping,"

First, let's look at verse 8 and a few other translations to get a better understanding of what is being described:

"All day long my enemies insult me. Those who ridicule me use my name as a curse." (God's Word Translation)

"All the day my enemies taunt me, those who deride me use my name for a curse." (RSV)

"My enemies have reproached me all day long; Those who deride me have used my name as a curse." (NASB)

The literal Hebrew reads: "my enemies...have sworn by me."

What the KJV, as well as the original Hebrew, is describing by the phrase "sworn against me" is a Hebrew expression meaning "my very own name has been used as a curse against me." [2] What the RSV and NASB, as well as some other modern translations, have done is recognize this expression. The word "name" does not appear in the original and so it appears in italics in the RSV and NASB. But before anyone takes objection to this, the KJV does the very same thing throughout its translation. It simply makes for a more readable text.

Now as to the interpretation as possibly alluding to the events during the holocaust. According to Dolan the yellow star that the Jews were required to wear was literally using the Jewish name as a curse.

Jews throughout Nazi-occupied Europe and North Africa were forced to wear a yellow star on their clothing. It was patterned after an ancient six-sided symbol connected to Israel's exalted King David. The Jewish prophets foretold that the Messiah would come from Judah, David's family tribe. The yellow stars had the name 'Jude' printed on them. This is the modern name of the ancient Hebrews — Jews — derived from the tribe of Judah. [3]

Actually "Jude" is the German word for "Jew." [4]

Verse 9 is very interesting and creates a disturbing image in terms of the Holocaust interpretation:

"For I have eaten ashes like bread, 
and mingled my drink with weeping,"

Dolan reminds his readers of Spielberg's portrayal of the Holocaust and how it captured the aspect of what this verse may be portraying:

The ashen remains of cremated bodies billowed out of towering camp chimneys, only to rain back down onto the camps when the winds were contrary. Thus, inmates were sometimes forced to breathe in, and even taste, the sooty remains of their fellow Jews. [5]

Verses 1 through 12 of Psalm 102 are filled with depression, but the mood suddenly changes at verse 13 as we see the restoration of Zion:

Psalm 102:13-14 
"Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof."

This is an interesting portion of Scripture when viewed in terms of a law that exists in Jerusalem. Dolan explains that most buildings in Jerusalem must be faced by off-white Jerusalem stones to give the modern city "an ancient, timeless, and quite intriguing look." He further explains the effect this has: "When the skies are blue and the sun bright, as on most days, the city glows with brilliant light. When the sun rises in the east, the buildings normally display a pinkish tint. When it is setting in the west, all of Jerusalem reflects its golden hues." [6]

Psalm 102:15-18 
So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD.

The above passage is David Dolan's proof text to show that the generation that saw the Holocaust would be the same generation that saw the restoration of Zion. Note the last sentence where the Hebrew word "acharon" has been translated "to come." Dolan takes the position that this should be translated as "last" to stay true to the original Hebrew which reads "last generation" (l'dor acharon). According to Strong's dictionary "acharon" means "hinder; generally late or last; western" and can be translated as either "last" or "come." Acharon is translated as "last" 20 times in the KJV and eight times as "to come." There is actually a variation of acharon that means "coming" or "another" but it is spelled as acheret.

All of the translations that I have render the verse as meaning "a generation that is to come" or "a later generation." None of the them give the meaning of a "last generation" although the word "acharon" can mean that. It would have been a daring move indeed for any translator to render the word as such I imagine. Dolan says that they "wimped" out on giving the literal Hebrew translation of verse 18 stating "the implications of the actual Hebrew phrase are enormous." [7]

In other words, Dolan believes that the generation of Jews that saw and/or experienced the Holocaust would be *the* last generation before the end of this age — the final generation of history as we know it. It would be this Holocaust generation that would live to see the restoration of Zion and the coming of the Lord to reign in that city.

All we are waiting on now is the coming of the Lord!


References:

[1] "The Germans Want Their History Back" by Roger Cohen; http://www.fpp.co.uk/Auschwitz/Buchenwald/NYT120999.html; Also see "Buchenwald; http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/text/x04/xm0465.html)

[2] Dolan, David. "Israel in Crisis: What Lies Ahead?"; House of David Publishers, (c)2001; p. 37

[3] Ibid., p. 38

[4] For representations of the various badges that were worn by the Jews please see http://holocaustcenter.org/holocaustbadges.shtml

[5] Dolan, p. 38

[6] Ibid., p. 36

[7] Ibid., p. 42


Moza

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