Putting the pieces together … Psalms 120-124

I thought it might be helpful to take a brief respite and review how Psalms 120-124 sound a harmonious song to our Helper.

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The Shepherd’s Field

Psalm 120

Though distressed by circumstances absent of peace (shalom), we call to the Lord who answers our cries.

To whom do our cries rise? To the Helper of Psalm 121 …

Psalm 121

Because our help comes from the Maker of the heavens and earth, who is our keeper (guard) we can be confident that He will keep (6x) us forevermore.

Psalm 122

The proper response of we who seek help from our Keeper is to give thanks to the name of the Lord, longing for worship and satisfaction in a peaceful, New Jerusalem, the place where our God dwells.

Psalm 123

But while waiting, we continue to lift up our eyes to the Lord our God, the One in the heavens, and ask for His grace when confronted with the contempt of the proud.

Psalm 124

Our Helper is none other than the Maker of heaven and earth. Blessed be the Lord who is for us and gives us victory.

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Sea of Galilee
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Songs for the Journey Home: The Purpose of the Songs of Ascents

Psalms is a book. As such, it demands to be read like others, especially taking into account context and structure. Although this is often difficult, collections within the larger Psalter demonstrate the benefit and justify the methodology. I say this, because I would like to share a few thoughts regarding the collection of Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134), beginning with the larger picture and then perhaps providing some further reflections on individual psalms in later days. So … today you get my purpose statement (albeit with little explanation).

The collection of Songs of Ascents is an eschatological interpretation/application of the Priestly Blessing based upon the psalmists’ hope in Yahweh’s faithfulness to fulfill the Davidic Covenant at Zion.

Put another way: Through the lens of the Priestly Blessing (Num 6:24-26), the Songs of Ascents encourage the faithful to look forward to the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises to David at Zion. They fill out what it means for the Lord to bless, to keep, to be gracious to, and to give peace to His people. They do this by interpreting their past, present, and future in light of God’s intention to bless them through the Son of David at Zion.

The eschatological fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant provides the basis for understanding the journey to Zion that is painted in these psalms not as a simple, historical pilgrimage theme but as a journey toward an idealized/new Zion in the eschaton.

Jesus and the Hebrew Scriptures

Saw this quote in the preface to Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament by Christopher J. H. Wright, which I thought was helpful, certainly for someone who teaches the Hebrew Bible:

I find myself aware that in reading the Hebrew scriptures I am handling something that gives me a closer common link with Jesus than any archaeological artefact could do.

For these are the words he read. These were the stories he knew. These were the songs he sang. These were the depths of wisdom and revelation and prophecy that shaped his whole view of ‘life, the universe and everything.’ … In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus. (ix)

Reading, Interpreting, and Preaching the Psalms – Step 1

Please see this post for the origin and purpose of the process I’m beginning today. Breaking the 10-fold procedure into bite-size chunks, I start with the first one:

1. Read the Hebrew Text

Essentially, become acquainted with the text, specifically its vocabulary and grammar. Since the Psalter was written in Hebrew, it only makes sense that the one who desires to read it competently and faithfully will spend time reading it in its original language, especially if you have gone through the difficult process of learning biblical Hebrew. Why be satisfied with reading poetry in translation when so many nuggets lie clearly before the one who will crack open that Biblia Hebraica purchased with such high hopes of devouring the OT? [Sorry . . . I’m now getting off my soapbox.]

In this early stage of reading, all that was learned in basic Hebrew will feed this step as your knowledge of Hebrew is stretched to learn (1) new forms, (2) vocabulary, and (3) grammatical tendencies of Hebrew poetry. The goal in this step is simply to saturate one’s mind with the text, ideally to the point where you can read through the text with no helps. A mind saturated with the text will more readily be prepared to make the observations on many of the later steps in this exegetical process.

I have recently begun to listen to the Psalter being read in the Hebrew, following along in the text. Although I was somewhat hesitant to do this at first, reasoning that I didn’t want to confuse the written with the oral, I have somewhat changed my mind on this with regard to the Psalter. In the psalms, I believe it provides help in recognizing the phonetic tendencies, i.e. consonance, assonance, other repetitions, etc. I will talk more about this in a later post on parallelism. If you’re interested, here is a resource.

Most students and preachers have a tendency to run quickly through the text by basically reading it along with the English versions. This is certainly not bad, but it surely is not the best. Granted, when one first gets out of basic Hebrew classes in school, he/she is probably not ready to break open the Psalter and read every line with just BDB in hand. This is probably the reason why many well-meaning students become disillusioned with using practically their Hebrew knowledge. However, increased exposure to the text will procure increased competence and decreased discomfort in the language.

So…try it. Psalm 117 would be a great place to start developing your “vocabulary of praise.”

הַֽלְל֣וּ אֶת־יְ֭הוָה כָּל־גּוֹיִ֑ם שַׁ֜בְּח֗וּהוּ כָּל־הָאֻמִּֽים׃
כִּ֥י גָ֨בַ֤ר עָלֵ֙ינוּ׀ חַסְדּ֗וֹ וֶֽאֱמֶת־יְהוָ֥ה לְעוֹלָ֗ם הַֽלְלוּ־יָֽהּ׃

Here are the other steps I will be discussing in later posts:

2. EVALUATE THE VARIANTS

3. DIAGRAM THE TEXT

4. ANALYZE THE PARALLELISM

5. EXAMINE THE PSALM’S COHERENCE

6. COMPARE THE PSALM TO ITS CONTEXT

7. READ THE TEXT CANONICALLY

8. FOLLOW THE TEXT INTO THE NEW TESTAMENT

9. APPLY THE PSALM RESPONSIBLY

10. PRAY THE PSALM

A Messianic Hebrew Bible?

I’m just starting this book, so I look forward to how he’s going to develop his point. However, I thought this was a provocative way to start the book, especially in light of this discussion:

Biblical scholars come at the issue of interpretation from a variety of presuppositions and approaches. While critical scholarship has, by and large, abandoned biblical inspiration and adopted methodologies such as source criticism, form criticism, and tradition history, evangelical scholarship has maintained a commitment to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. In their struggle to determine the meaning of biblical texts, some evangelical scholars have adopted a historical reading of the text that often minimizes direct messianic prophecy.

In contrast to the historical interpretation of the Bible, there is a growing movement among some biblical scholars to approach the text of Scripture by focusing not upon how the text developed historically but rather upon its final canonical form. As a result of carefully examining the compositional strategies of the biblical authors themselves and reading the Scriptures according to their final form and in conjunction with innerbiblical interpretations, there is a growing tendency to see the Old Testament as an eschatological, messianic text.[1]


[1] Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic?, xv.

Tenses and Clause Position in the Psalms: Excursus on Psalm 18 (part 2)

This is a continuation of this post.

Psalm 18:8–16 [Eng 7–15]

8 וַתִּגְעַ֬שׁ וַתִּרְעַ֙שׁ׀ הָאָ֗רֶץ
וּמוֹסְדֵ֣י הָרִ֣ים יִרְגָּ֑זוּ
וַ֜יִּתְגָּֽעֲשׁ֗וּ כִּי־חָ֥רָה לֽוֹ׃
9 עָ֨לָ֤ה עָשָׁ֙ן׀ בְּאַפּ֗וֹ
וְאֵשׁ־מִפִּ֥יו תֹּאכֵ֑ל
גֶּ֜חָלִ֗ים בָּעֲר֥וּ מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃
10 וַיֵּ֣ט שָׁ֭מַיִם וַיֵּרַ֑ד
וַ֜עֲרָפֶ֗ל תַּ֣חַת רַגְלָֽיו׃
11 וַיִּרְכַּ֣ב עַל־כְּ֭רוּב וַיָּעֹ֑ף
וַ֜יֵּ֗דֶא
עַל־כַּנְפֵי־רֽוּחַ׃
12 יָ֤שֶׁת חֹ֙שֶׁךְ׀ סִתְר֗וֹ סְבִֽיבוֹתָ֥יו סֻכָּת֑וֹ
חֶשְׁכַת־מַ֗֜יִם עָבֵ֥י שְׁחָקִֽים׃
13 מִנֹּ֗גַהּ נֶ֫גְדּ֥וֹ עָבָ֥יו עָבְר֑וּ
בָּ֜רָ֗ד וְגַֽחֲלֵי־אֵֽשׁ׃
14 וַיַּרְעֵ֬ם בַּשָּׁמַ֙יִם׀ יְֽהוָ֗ה
וְ֭עֶלְיוֹן יִתֵּ֣ן קֹל֑וֹ בָּ֜רָ֗ד וְגַֽחֲלֵי־אֵֽשׁ׃
15 וַיִּשְׁלַ֣ח חִ֭צָּיו וַיְפִיצֵ֑ם
וּבְרָקִ֥ים רָ֜ב וַיְהֻמֵּֽם׃
16 וַיֵּ֤רָא֙וּ׀ אֲפִ֥יקֵי מַ֗יִם
וַֽיִּגָּלוּ֘
מוֹסְד֪וֹת תֵּ֫בֵ֥ל
מִגַּעֲרָ֣תְךָ֣ יְהוָ֑ה
מִ֜נִּשְׁמַ֗ת ר֣וּחַ אַפֶּֽךָ׃

For a possible English translation, consider the ESV. But note that the English versions are 1 verse behind the Hebrew.

For the first time in the psalm, the tense switches to the wayyiqtol [marked in red throughout], which is the dominate tense in these verses. Other tenses are interspersed within, but clearly these verses consist of a wayyiqtol chain narrating a complex of continuous actions which Michel describes as a defeat of the Chaos flood by means of creation. His point is that the author describes his salvation in terms of figurative language. Since there are no personal references, the point could be made that the author describes past actions of Yhwh—namely, his subduing of His enemies—in terms of a theophany, language used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. Only after describing these past events, does the author apply these to his own situation (see below on vv. 17ff.)

One verb that causes difficulty is the imperfect at the start of v. 12. Michel uses this instance to bolster his thesis that there is virtually no difference between the imperfect and imperfect consecutive. Since 2 Samuel 22:12 as well as two Hebrew manuscripts (according to the apparatus in BHS), one might suppose that it should be taken as the wayyiqtol. This would certainly make sense in the passage, as it does in 2 Samuel. If the text is allowed to remain as in MT, it causes issues for the way I’m viewing the imperfect. Structurally, being at the head of the clause, it might be considered volitional. However, we must admit that there are a variety of uses of the imperfect (as Nicacci points out in his helpful article: “An Integrated Verb System for Biblical Hebrew Prose and Poetry,” pp. 114-119). Left as the imperfect, I think a conditional use would be most appropriate for vv. 12-13: “Though he makes [or would make] darkness his covering . . . out of the brightness broke . . . hailstones and coals of fire.”

Psalm 18:17–21 [Eng 16–19]

17 יִשְׁלַ֣ח מִ֭מָּרוֹם יִקָּחֵ֑נִי
יַֽ֜מְשֵׁ֗נִי
מִמַּ֥יִם רַבִּֽים׃
18 יַצִּילֵ֗נִי מֵאֹיְבִ֥י עָ֑ז
וּ֜מִשֹּׂנְאַ֗י כִּֽי־אָמְצ֥וּ מִמֶּֽנִּי׃
19 יְקַדְּמ֥וּנִי בְיוֹם־אֵידִ֑י
וַֽיְהִי
־יְהוָ֖ה לְמִשְׁעָ֣ן לִֽי׃
20 וַיּוֹצִיאֵ֥נִי לַמֶּרְחָ֑ב
יְ֜חַלְּצֵ֗נִי
כִּ֨י חָ֥פֵֽץ בִּֽי׃
21 יִגְמְלֵ֣נִי יְהוָ֣ה כְּצִדְקִ֑י
כְּבֹ֥ר יָ֜דַ֗י יָשִׁ֥יב לִֽי׃

English Translation: Psalm 18:16-20.

What I find intriguing about these five verses is how the author moves almost exclusively to the imperfect. Eight of the nine yiqtols here are found in first position, and the ninth is set in a chiasm parallel to the eighth. So I would conclude that here again (in probably all of these uses), the author has used the imperfect volitionally. He continues the request of v. 7, yet now makes this series of requests based on the past work of God narrated in vv. 8–16. Otherwise, I have a hard time understanding why there would be a need to shift so heavily to the imperfect.

An alternate way of understanding v. 19, which I think is helpful, would be to set this verse in the framework of Michel’s section 2. In this sense, the wayyiqtols in vv. 19b, 20a may be seen as results of the imperfect at the head of v. 19 with the translation: “Every time they would confront me . . . Yhwh was my support and brought me out ….”

In favor of accepting most of these yiqtols as volition (in my opinion) is the connection between vv. 21 and 25. In v. 21, the speaker uses the imperfect to ask Yhwh to reward and recompense him according to his righteousness and clean hands, respectively.[1] In v. 25, on the other hand, the speaker uses the wayyiqtol to state that Yhwh has recompensed him, again because of righteousness and clean hands. If Michel is correct and v. 21 simply states facts of the past, like the wayyiqtol, then the psalmist claims a two-fold recompense from Yhwh. In answering this difficulty, Michel states, “V. 25 is by no means a mere repetition of v. 21, rather it places the statements, which v. 21 has merely reported, in a definite context.” Rather, I would explain this as a request (v. 21) answered by Yhwh (v. 25).

The two perfects that occur (vv. 18b, 20b) are found in כי clauses and present no difficulty.


[1] This assumes a volitional reading and that both are intended as volitional because of the chiasm.