Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Memorizing the Psalms - 2 (11-25)

The Psalter is a poetic record of a story -
  • of an invitation (1-2), a king-poet-musician-beloved named David (whose psalms dominate Book 1 - 3 to 32, 34 to 41 and who has at least 1 psalm in every book), 
  • a people who are in exile but who continue in hope (42-72), 
  • a people whose monarchy failed (73-89), 
  • a people who pray in the spirit and tradition of Moses and whose Ruler is Yhwh (90-106), 
  • a people who have learned mercy and can administer it under the instruction of their covenant with this God (107-150).
Each of these groupings is bounded by a doxology. But the chunks are too big to memorize all at once. It's a month's food. Indigestion follows if one tries to eat it all at once. In my first post on this subject, I noted the coherence of the first lines for the first 10 psalms. Each of Books 1 and 5 contains four strategically placed acrostic poems.  Psalms 9-10 are the first acrostic. The next step then in Book 1 then is from Psalm 11 to 25, the second acrostic. Here are the snippets of the first verses.
בַּיהוָה חָסִיתִי11:1In יהוה I take refuge
הוֹשִׁיעָה יְהוָה כִּי גָמַר חָסִיד12:2Save יהוה for obliterated is the merciful one
עַד אָנָה יְהוָה תִּשְׁכָּחֵנִי 13:2How long please יהוה will you forget me?
אָמַר נָבָל בְּלִבּוֹ14:1Senseless said in its heart
יְהוָה מִי יָגוּר בְּאָהֳלֶךָ15:1יהוה who will guest in your tent?
שָׁמְרֵנִי אֵל כִּי חָסִיתִי בָךְ16:1Keep me O God for I take refuge in you.
שִׁמְעָה יְהוָה צֶדֶק17:1Hear יהוה righteousness
אֶרְחָמְךָ יְהוָה חִזְקִי18:2I am passionate about you יהוה my courage
הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד אֵל19:2The heavens recount the glory of God
יַעַנְךָ יְהוָה בְּיוֹם צָרָה20:2יהוה answer you in the day of trouble
יְהוָה בְּעָזְּךָ יִשְׂמַח מֶלֶךְ21:2יהוה in your strength a king is glad
אֵלִי אֵלִי לָמָה עֲזַבְתָּנִי22:2My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
יְהוָה רֹעִי23:1יהוה is my shepherd
לַיהוָה הָאָרֶץ24:1The earth is יהוה's
לְדָוִד אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה נַפְשִׁי אֶשָּׂא אֱלֹהַי 25:1א I will lift up my self to you יהוה my God
One of the things you notice right away is that the Hebrew verses have different numbers from the English. The first text beyond the inscription is sometimes part of verse 1 and sometimes verse 2 (or even as far away as verse 3). The reason for this is that the inscription may be a complete musical phrase in itself (as in Psalm 12) or it may be just the beginning of a musical phrase (as in Psalm 14). I have not retained the whole verse as a mnemonic. Remember how short the Latin titles for the psalms are. So these 15 psalms reduce to a short list.

Which of these psalms reflect something of the first 10? See the  first post. Notice how

  • 11 and 16 recall the refuge of Psalm 7. Refuge, a desirable outcome (see the closing verses of Psalms 2 and 5), is a learned experience that we will see at the beginning of several Psalms. 
  • 12 is a plea for salvation for even the elect is obliterated. The inner frame is the children of humanity, recalling Psalm 8.
  • 13 asks how long please? 
  • 14 describes the senseless - for whom God is of no account. 
  • 15 recalls Psalm 1 as if the sequence is responding to that invitation.
  • 16 notes God's role in the act of refuge.
  • 17 reveals much of the poet's desire, the poet defines righteousness. The central verse again concerns refuge.
  • 18 has a unique passion
  • 19 is about creation (and Torah). 
  • 20 is a prayer for the king. 
  • 21 is the response. 
  • 22 is trouble but ends in worship. 
  • 23 is respite. 
  • 24 records who owns the land and a triumphant entry commanding the gates to lift up their heads. 
  • 25 is the celebratory acrostic. Notice the immediate reference to lift up in Psalm 24 and the closing reference to refuge

A question arises - why are these poems in this order? The whole sequence is framed by refuge. In addition, Psalms 18 to 24 introduce passion, teaching, prayer, response, trouble, respite, and triumph. A central component for consideration is the section from Psalm 18, verses 20 to 25. You will find it here as part of my presentation on the structure of the Psalter.