Friday, August 27, 2010

One last summary from the second half of Book 5

Here is a brief summary of the remainder of Book 4 - from Psalms 125 to 150.
  • from 125 - 134 we complete the Songs of Ascent - and then we begin to close the brackets that were opened in earlier Psalms.
  • So 135 is the culmination of the prior 15 psalms where the worshipers now stand in the courts of the house of God. 
  • 136 identifies the formative event of the Sea of Reeds and the decisive parting is the new frame. This closes the Creation-Redemption themes in the Psalter. 
  • 137 closes the lament bracket begun by the early Korah psalms 42-44. 
  • 138 begins a series of Davidic Psalms expressing confidence - יְהוָה will complete his work for my sake. 
  • 139 shows the intimate completion of this work - but trouble is still evident to the psalmist. 
  • The violence of 140 is no surprise and reflects the language of early psalms 7-11. 
  • 141 closes the theme of the tongue that appears many times in Book 1. 
  • 142, David's final Maskil also closes a frame opened in Psalm 107 at the beginning of Book 5. 
  • 143 looks for an end to enemies through God's loving kindness and recognizes that no one is justified in God's sight
  • 144 is the last of the Davidic personal cluster and closes with the plea - set me free and the prayer for bounty
  • 145 is the final acrostic of praise which leads into the final Hallels
  • 149 part of the great Hallel closes the frame begun in psalm 2. I am struck by the realization that the חֲסִידִים appear to be the creation of the Psalter. I find myself wondering if this term is a coinage. If so I would be able to coin the English term 'mercied' for translation. 
This brief summary shows how Psalm 119 with its affirmative on the testimony is really the culmination of the Psalter. The rest is a consequence - worship and the closing of all the themes opened up in earlier psalms.

Along the way of the past 7 weeks, I have noticed several furrowed fields - much like those I ran over on my first marathon as a 12 year-old in the hills and fields north of my old school. I think that period c 1957 was the first time I ever noticed a plowed field. It was very hard to run through. Its tussocks were large for small feet - yet I recall the richness of the soil and places of wetness to be avoided - an image imprinted on my memory.

The theme of harvest and its necessary preparation is also in the Psalter. Curious then that my root derivation algorithm (rightly so) does not distinguish arm זְרוֹעַ from seed זרע. Their common sound would easily be heard in the poem. Also related to this theme of harvest would be the plow - the severe difficulty of being prepared for praise. So that when we get there, we do not say - take me away and put me in the lowest place - for the wrong reasons. Similarly an algorithm dependent on consonants alone as mine is will not distinguish the many meanings of חרש, plow, craft, or silence. Are we not crafted in silence as our soil is turned? Recall Psalm 28 (do not be silent) and 129 (the plowing). Harvest is not an obvious theme at the word level. I see it in 'the increase of the earth' in Psalm 67 and 85 and in the metaphor of plowing as well as in the work of the arm and the seed. The graph of words related to harvest is not particularly revealing but the theme seems to me to be there throughout. Psalm 89 focusing on the seed of Israel mixes the harvest and royal themes. The fruit of the harvest is the loving-kindness, confidence, and encouragement of those חֲסִידִים.

There are many other themes I noted on the way through the paths of this marathon and there are many touches in the psalms that I noted in my second pass and did not note here. Perhaps I will consolidate them some day.

One question to leave open. Shame is a theme as is the issue of enemy, trouble, and distress. Does the psalter avoid the objectification of the enemy? We frequently see phrases like this: Let them be ashamed and confounded who seek my hurt. What is the good of shame and distress for another? I think that overall, there is a recognition of the complicity of the individual addressing God in the troubles. The psalmist notes (after due reflection) that being afflicted was a good experience though miserable at the time. So it is possible that the prayer with respect to enemies could be translated into transformation of the enemy rather than vengeance. That would make praying  the psalms a practice of critical value in our times.

Are the fields still white and ready for harvest? If so perhaps this is a way to send labourers into them.

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