Thursday, May 9, 2013

Memorizing the Psalms - 4 (35-37, 38-41)

In this series, I am considering strategies for memorizing all the psalms of the Hebrew Psalter.

We have only a few poems remaining in Book 1, a book in which all the poems except 4 are inscribed with the name David. Of the four,
  • Psalm 10 has no inscription since it is a continuation of Psalm 9, the two forming the first acrostic (poems in which the first letters of regular sections of the poetry are in alphabetic sequence.)
  • Psalms 1 and 2 introduce the whole Psalter.
  • Psalm 33 stands out as unique. It is the first poem to use the phrase 'a new song'.  
This fourth section of Book 1 follows the acrostic Psalm 34 and ends with the wicked acrostic, Psalm 37.
רִיבָה יְהוָה אֶת יְרִיבַי 35:1Contend יהוה with my contenders
נְאֻם פֶּשַׁע לָרָשָׁע בְּקֶרֶב לִבִּי36:2An oracle on the transgression of the wicked within my heart
אַל תִּתְחַר בַּמְּרֵעִים37:1about evildoers do not burn
  • 35, contention, is a poem that will be alluded to several times in subsequent books, notably Psalms 43 and 74, thus linking Book 1 to the second poem in each of Books 2 and 3.
  • 36, an oracle is one of two in the Psalter, Psalm 110 being the other. These two are one half of the major chiasm Psalms 8(a) -- 36(b) -- 110(b) -- 144(a) providing an overarching internal structure to the Psalter within the envelope of Psalms 2 -- 149.
  • 37, an acrostic on the wicked, has an inner repetition of those waiting for יהוה who will possess the earth.
There are groups of psalms at the end of each book that work as coda for each book or as entr'acte.
  • In Book 1, this is the group Psalms 38-41. 
  • In Book 2, it is the soliloquy Psalm 71 and the hope for the king's son expressed in Psalm 72, inscribed of Solomon
  • In Book 3, the final corporate lament, Psalm 89 of Ethan, stands alone with respect to inscription (though it is prepared by Psalm 88). 
  • In Book 4, Psalms 104 to 106 are outside the frame formed by the two prayers 90 and 102, with the two psalms of David 101 and 103 surrounding the closing frame. 
  • In Book 5, the final series of praises, 146 to 150, follow the fourth acrostic. See this earlier post on these five psalms, also part of this series.
There are only four poems remaining in Book 1:
יְהוָה אַל בְּקֶצְפְּךָ תוֹכִיחֵנִי38:2יהוה - do not in your rage correct me
אָמַרְתִּי אֶשְׁמְרָה דְרָכַי מֵחֲטוֹא בִלְשׁוֹנִי39:2I said I will keep my ways from sin with my tongue
קַוֹּה קִוִּיתִי יְהוָה40:2waiting I await יהוה 
אַשְׁרֵי מַשְׂכִּיל אֶל דָּל41:2Happy the one giving insight to the weak
  • Psalm 38 reminds us directly of Psalm 6.
  • Psalm 39, almost comical, reports the explosive question in the human spirit.
  • Psalm 40, directly quoted in Hebrews 10:5-7 pleads for speed. Part of it is doubled in Psalm 70, joining the end of Book 1 to the end of Book 2.
  • Psalm 41 begins with the closing beatitude of Book 1, a particularly lovely experience when observed in others.