Tenses & Clause Position in the Psalms – Section 3: Chains of Imperfects Consecutive (part 2)

The previous post began a survey of how imperfects consecutive (wayyiqtols) should be understood in the Psalter when forming chains. This post continues discussing how Diethelm Michel (in his Tempora und Satzstellung in den Psalmen) understands the relationships of the wayyiqtols, as well as how perfects (qatals) and imperfects (yiqtols) are used within these chains. The previous post touched on the use of the perfect; this post will explore Michel’s conclusions regarding the imperfect.

Michel demonstrates a couple possibilities for the way the psalmists use the imperfect within wayyiqtol chains.

The imperfect may be used to show action that is exactly the same as the imperfect consecutive.

Psalm 78:58 gives a fitting example.[1]

וַיַּכְעִיס֥וּהוּ בְּבָמוֹתָ֑ם
וּ֜בִפְסִילֵיהֶ֗ם יַקְנִיאֽוּהוּ׃

For they provoked him to anger [wayyiqtol] with their high places;
they moved him [yiqtol] to jealousy with their idols. (NRSV)

Here, at the end of a chain of wayyiqtols, v. 58b has an inversion and the imperfect tense. It seems clear that the stage of time is the same as v. 58a, but unlike vv. 53, 56, and 57 (see the previous post), the author chose the imperfect instead of the perfect. Since the perfect is not used, 58b does not explicate 58a in some way, rather it expresses the same action simply with another verb. To provoke to anger is viewed the same as to move to jealousy.[2]

Furthermore, Michel concludes that the inversion of the clause is important here. The author inverts the clause in order to show that the series of actions is not continued. Instead, placing the verb in non-initial position indicates that nothing new is begun.[3]

The same points made here could also be made in 78:72:

וַ֭יִּרְעֵם כְּתֹ֣ם לְבָב֑וֹ
וּבִתְבוּנ֖וֹת כַּפָּ֣יו יַנְחֵֽם׃

With upright heart he [i.e., David] tended them [wayyiqtol],
and guided them [yiqtol] with skillful hand. (NRSV)

The imperfect may be used like an imperfect consecutive.

Although Michel gives greater support and clarification for this conclusion in later sections, he demonstrates this use with several examples here. Consider 78:12–19.

12 נֶ֣גֶד אֲ֭בוֹתָם עָ֣שָׂה פֶ֑לֶא
בְּאֶ֖רֶץ מִצְרַ֣יִם שְׂדֵה־צֹֽעַן׃
13 בָּ֣קַע יָ֭ם וַיַּֽעֲבִירֵ֑ם
וַֽיַּצֶּב־מַ֥יִם כְּמוֹ־נֵֽד׃
14 וַיַּנְחֵ֣ם בֶּעָנָ֣ן יוֹמָ֑ם
וְכָל־הַ֜לַּ֗יְלָה בְּא֣וֹר אֵֽשׁ׃
15 יְבַקַּ֣ע צֻ֭רִים בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר
וַ֜יַּ֗שְׁקְ כִּתְהֹמ֥וֹת רַבָּֽה׃
16 וַיּוֹצִ֣א נוֹזְלִ֣ים מִסָּ֑לַע
וַיּ֖וֹרֶד כַּנְּהָר֣וֹת מָֽיִם׃
17 וַיּוֹסִ֣יפוּ ע֭וֹד לַחֲטֹא־ל֑וֹ
לַֽמְר֥וֹת עֶ֜לְי֗וֹן בַּצִּיָּֽה׃
18 וַיְנַסּוּ־אֵ֥ל בִּלְבָבָ֑ם
לִֽשְׁאָל־אֹ֥כֶל לְנַפְשָֽׁם׃
19 וַֽיְדַבְּר֗וּ בֵּֽאלֹ֫הִ֥ים אָ֭מְרוּ
הֲי֣וּכַל אֵ֑ל לַעֲרֹ֥ךְ שֻׁ֜לְחָ֗ן בַּמִּדְבָּֽר׃

12 In the sight of their ancestors he worked [qatal] marvels
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
13 He divided [qatal] the sea and let them pass [wayyiqtol] through it,
and made the waters stand [wayyiqtol] like a heap.
14 In the daytime he led them [wayyiqtol]  with a cloud,
and all night long with a fiery light.
15 He split [yiqtol] rocks open in the wilderness,
and gave them drink [wayyiqtol] abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out [wayyiqtol] of the rock,
and caused waters to flow [wayyiqtol] down like rivers.
17 Yet they sinned [wayyiqtol] still more against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18 They tested [wayyiqtol] God in their heart
by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke [wayyiqtol] against God, saying [qatal],
“Can God spread [yiqtol] a table in the wilderness?” (NRSV)

At issue is the imperfect of v. 15, which interrupts the wayyiqtol chain. Although Michel’s conclusion is that the imperfect acts as an imperfect consecutive, there is still reason to ask the question, Why did the author choose the imperfect? The answer seems to be that the imperfect allows the subsequent giving of drink, making streams come out, etc., to be actions that are results of the splitting of the rock. In a sense, then, the author has introduced a new set of actions into the discussion, and the yiqtol provides a foundation upon which the wayyiqtols give not merely simple results but (in Michel’s words) “intended” results. The translation of v. 15 could then be: “He split rocks in the wilderness in order to make them drink abundantly as from the deep.”

I’m still wrestling with whether I agree with Michel on this issue of the imperfect being used like the imperfect consecutive. I definitely don’t believe that there is a one-to-one correspondence. I believe, as in the case of 78:15, that the author has a purpose for the use of these tenses. This is an issue that Michel clarifies in later sections, so I will discuss this at a later point.


[1] Please note that imperfects are highlighted in green, imperfects consecutive in red, and perfects in blue.

[2] It would interesting to discuss the relationship of this verse with Deuteronomy 32:16, where these two verbs are also placed in parallel, in a chiasm. Yet, in Deuteronomy, both verbs appear as imperfects.

[3] The inversion could also be explained by the poetic device of chiastic parallelism.


Author: Randy McKinion

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

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