Tenses & Clause Position in the Psalms – Section 1: Imperfect Consecutive after the Perfect

This is the first in the series of posts I intend to make as I work through Diethelm Michel’s Tempora und Satzstellung in den Psalmen, which I introduced yesterday. The first major part of the work deals with how the imperfect consecutive is used in the Psalter.

In section 1, Michel raises the question about the relationship between the imperfect consecutive (wayyiqtol) and the perfect (qatal), specifically when the wayyiqtol follows the qatal.

According to Michel, the two verb forms are not necessarily used interchangeably, as if a description that begins with the perfect is simply continued through an imperfect consecutive. Such a conclusion, particularly if it is the result of a presupposition that there is no difference between these tenses, would miss the intended purpose of the author’s choice of tenses. The relationship between them is clearly demonstrated by Ps 30:3 [EVV 2]. The perfects are highlighted in blue; the imperfects consecutive in red.

יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהָ֑י
שִׁוַּ֥עְתִּי אֵ֜לֶ֗יךָ וַתִּרְפָּאֵֽנִי׃

Yhwh, my God,
I cried out to you, then you healed me.

The healing from Yhwh is a consequence of the crying out for help, as if the psalm intends the following meaning: “I cried out to you, and (as a result) you healed me.” Consider also, Ps 28:7:

יְהוָ֤ה׀ עֻזִּ֥י וּמָגִנִּי֘
בּ֤וֹ בָטַ֥ח לִבִּ֗י וְֽנֶ֫עֱזָ֥רְתִּי
וַיַּעֲלֹ֥ז לִבִּ֑י

Yahweh is my strength and my shield,
in him my heart trusted, and I was helped,
of which my heart rejoiced…

Based on such examples, Michel makes the following conclusions about the use of these tenses together:

  1. the perfect reports an action as an independent fact and
  2. the imperfect consecutive gives some result(s) arising from this fact.

The relationship between them is cause-effect or reason-result, as in the example above from Psalm 30.

Consider Ps 66:10–12, which demonstrates the two points above.

כִּֽי־בְחַנְתָּ֥נוּ אֱלֹהִ֑ים
צְ֜רַפְתָּ֗נוּ כִּצְרָף־כָּֽסֶף׃
הֲבֵאתָ֥נוּ בַמְּצוּדָ֑ה
שַׂ֖מְתָּ מוּעָקָ֣ה בְמָתְנֵֽינוּ׃
הִרְכַּ֥בְתָּ אֱנ֗וֹשׁ לְרֹ֫אשֵׁ֥נוּ
בָּֽאנוּ־בָאֵ֥שׁ וּבַמַּ֑יִם
וַ֜תּוֹצִיאֵ֗נוּ לָֽרְוָיָֽה׃

For you have tested us, God,
you have purified us, as one purifies silver,
you have brought us into the prison,
you have laid a burden (?) on our hip,
you have allowed men to run over our head,
we have gone through fire and water—
in this way you have carried us to abundance.

On the one hand, the actions described by the perfects report the conditions of serious difficulties of the speakers. If these had been reported with wayyiqtols, then there would be a clear progression represented in the same way as if it were used in narrative (see Ps 40:2–4). Yet, by using the perfect, the author presents these actions without progress or dependence. On the other hand, in v. 12b, the report of action shifts to the imperfect consecutive and shows the purpose toward which these actions were focused. Michel puts it this way: “The purifying action of Yhwh, which appears first as distress, has as goal and result the רויה [place of abundance]” (p. 19). As such, the combination of the tenses has been used intelligently to give a “theological interpretation” to the events.

In addition, by means of this relationship, the author can take general facts, which are known to be true, and report future results of which the psalmist can be assured. According to Michel, this is the case in Ps 41:13 [EVV 12].

וַאֲנִ֗י בְּ֭תֻמִּי תָּמַ֣כְתָּ בִּ֑י
וַתַּצִּיבֵ֖נִי לְפָנֶ֣יךָ לְעוֹלָֽם׃

And as for me, you have upheld me because of my integrity,
and [therefore] you set me in your presence forever.


Author: Randy McKinion

Besides being a husband and father, I teach at Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH.

4 thoughts on “Tenses & Clause Position in the Psalms – Section 1: Imperfect Consecutive after the Perfect”

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