Saturday, December 21, 2013

Psalm 61

Lines Scansion

NASB (The superscription is verse 1 in the Hebrew text making the whole 9 verses instead of 8. The following discussion will utilize the English numbering for convenience. The bracketed portions represent alterations.)
      Hear my cry, O God; 
         Give heed to my prayer.
      From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart
            is faint;
         Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
      For You have been a refuge for me,
         A tower of strength against the enemy.
      [I am resolved to] dwell in Your tent forever;
         [I am resolved to] take refuge in the shelter of
            Your wings. Selah.
      [Because] You [ ,O God, You] have heard
            my vows;
         You have given me the inheritance of those who fear
            Your name.
      You will prolong the king’s life;
         His years will be as many generations.
      He will abide before God forever;
         Appoint lovingkindness and truth that they may preserve him.
      [Thus I am resolved to] sing praise to Your name forever,
         [And to] pay my vows day by day.
Effect of the Metric Center on the Psalm’s Development
Westermann (Praise and Lament, 80) classifies Psalm 61 as a Psalm of Petition whereas others see it as a psalm of Individual Lament, “Ps 61 is classified as an individual lament in most form-critical analyses. . . . However, the prayer for the king in vv 7-8 is somewhat strange, but not without parallels . . . . The vow in v 9 is appropriate for a lament. Nevertheless Weiser (The Psalms, 443) finds a tone of thanksgiving in the psalm from v 4 onward which ‘prevails . . . over the tone of lament and depression [and] the song is to be regarded as a thanksgiving.’” Actually, no arguments exist since the individual lament contains both petitions and thanksgivings. The difference is simply that Psalm 61 highlights petitions and thanksgivings leaving out the other elements of the individual lament (see Westermann, Ibid., 66-69).
The psalmist begins his short poem by petitioning God to “hear” and “give attention” to his prayers that he repeats while experiencing a sense of distance from God and “faintness of heart.” He remembers that God has been his guide, refuge and strong tower in the face of an enemy (verses 1-3). His past experiences encourages him as he expresses his resolves to dwell in God’s tent and take refuge in God’s protection (verse 4).  The verbs “dwell” and “take refuge” are cohortatives  expressing “the will or strong desire of the speaker. In cases where the speaker has the ability to carry out an inclination it takes on the coloring of resolve (Waltke and O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, 573).
In lament or petition psalms there occurs an oracle, a divine response to the prayers of the psalmist. This oracle is either stated or implied as here indicated by the perfect aspect “You have heard” (שָׁמַ֣עְתָּ). This response becomes a transition from the lament aspect of the psalm to the thanksgiving or praise element. “The transition is the real theme” (Westermann, Ibid., 80) and may be paraphrased here:  “You, O God, have heard my prayers and accepted the accompanying vows that I have made to You.” Verse 5 begins dramatically, “Because You” (כּיִ־אַתָּה), and introduces the metric center turning the psalm from lament to thanksgiving.  The pronoun “You” appears twice for emphasis and focus (and should not be relegated to the end of the clause). The consequent divine blessings of an inheritance, long life, and guardianship by “lovingkindness and truth” (verses 5b-7) invoke the final resolutions from the psalmist to “sing praise to Your name forever” and continue to “pay my vows day by day” (verse 8).

Romans 12:1-2 Grammatical Diagrams



Thursday, December 12, 2013

Psalm 55

Lines Scansion
NASB (The Hebrew Bible includes the superscription as verse 1. The English Bibles have one less verse. The following discussion uses the English Bible verse numbering for convenience unless otherwise indicated.)

1       Give ear to my prayer, O God;
         And do not hide Yourself from my supplication.
2       Give heed to me and answer me;
         I am restless in my complaint and am surely distracted,
3       Because of the voice of the enemy,
         Because of the pressure of the wicked;
         For they bring down trouble upon me
         And in anger they bear a grudge against me.
4       My heart is in anguish within me,
         And the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5       Fear and trembling come upon me,
         And horror has overwhelmed me.
6       I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
         I would fly away and be at rest.
7       “Behold, I would wander far away,
         I would lodge in the wilderness. Selah.
8       “I would hasten to my place of refuge
         From the stormy wind and tempest.”
9       Confuse, O Lord, divide their tongues,
         For I have seen violence and strife in the city.
10     Day and night they go around her upon her walls,
         And iniquity and mischief are in her midst.
11     Destruction is in her midst;
         Oppression and deceit do not depart from her streets.
12     For it is not an enemy who reproaches me,
         Then I could bear it;
         Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me,
         Then I could hide myself from him.

13     But it is you, a man my equal,
         My companion and my familiar friend;

14     We who had sweet fellowship together
         Walked in the house of God in the throng.
15     Let death come deceitfully upon them;
         Let them go down alive to Sheol,
         For evil is in their dwelling, in their midst.
16     As for me, I shall call upon God,
         And the LORD will save me.
17     Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur,
         And He will hear my voice.
18     He will redeem my soul in peace from the battle which is
            against me,
         For they are many who strive with me.
19     God will hear and answer them—
         Even the one who sits enthroned from of old—Selah.
         With whom there is no change, 
         And who do not fear God.
20     He has put forth his hands against those who were at peace
            with him;
         He has violated his covenant.
21     His speech was smoother than butter,
         But his heart was war;
         His words were softer than oil,
         Yet they were drawn swords.
22     Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you;
         He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
23     But You, O God, will bring them down to the pit of destruction;
         Men of bloodshed and deceit will not live out half their days.
         But I will trust in You.
 Effects of the Metric Center on the Psalm’s Development
The center of Psalm 55, an individual lament (Tate, Psalms 51-100, 55), can be supported by (1) the lines scansion, (2) the central theme and outline, and (3) some content details. The metric evaluation shown in the Hebrew text reveals a clear division: 82 beats before and 83 beats after verse 13 (14 in Hebrew). It would be convenient to center the Psalm in verses 12-14 and the metrics would not vary much—77 and 75 beats. However, verse 13 is still the focal point in these three verses and in the Psalm as a whole as acknowledge by many scholars.
Psalm 55 does not outline neatly as evidenced by numerous commentators. “However, it is very obvious that the psalm reflects great emotional strain, and under such circumstances a person may not be concerned for an orderly and disciplined presentation,” write Tesh and Zorn (Psalms, 387). Bratcher and Reyburn (A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, 491) comment, “The irregularities in the progression of thought have led many commentators to conjecture that the work is composite, but there is hardly any agreement on the identification of the two or more separate compositions that might have been brought together in the final form.” Also, the terms in the first part of the psalm (1-12) that appear in the second part (14-23) tie the psalm together into a coherent whole—complaint and complain (root שיח, verses 2 and 17); distracted and murmur (root הום, verses 2 and 17); bring down and to be shaken (root מוט, verses 3 and 22). Tate (Psalms) remarks, “The psalm is held together by a common theme of the trouble brought by the treacherous actions of a friend. Also note the use of the verb מוט (“move/shake”) in vv 4 and 23 [Hebrew], a wordplay which links the first part of the psalm with the second, . . .”
Almost without exception, the commentators highlight the “faithless friend” found in verses 12-14 as the primary theme. Bratcher and Reyburn speak of “. . . the treachery of a former friend (verses 12–14).” The Pulpit Commentary (p. 413) finds as the central theme a “reference to a faithless friend, who is the chief cause of the writer’s sufferings.” Davidson finds the same emphasis (The Vitality of Worship: a Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 175) writing, “. . . the intensity of the psalmist’s feelings disrupts the logical sequence of thought, with two separate sections on his treacherous companion (vv. 12–14 and 20–21).”  Tesh and Zorn (Psalms, 387) likewise emphasize the theme, “But the agony, distressful as it is, is intensified by the discovery that a trusted friend, a bosom companion, has betrayed that trust by joining those who conspire against him (vv. 12–14).” Ross (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, I, 1834) states, “This psalm records David’s experience of persecution through the betrayal of an intimate friend.” Finally, Keil and Delitzsch (Commentary on the Old Testament, 5, 381) title the entire psalm “Prayer of One Who is Maliciously Beset and Betrayed by His Friend.” Others could be listed, but what becomes clear is that the central theme of the psalm is found in verses 12-14, making verse 13, and the metric center, the focal point.

But there is more.  Some details of the psalm’s contents point to verse 13 as the center. Taking special note of the terms in the singular that reflect the “faithless friend” (not including verse 13), there are 6 mentions in verses 1-12 and 9 mentions in verses 14-23. Also, observing the terms in the plural that refer to the “enemies,” there are 2 mentions in verses 1-12 and 16 mentions in verses 14-23. There is a definite movement from focusing on the “friend” to accentuating the “enemies.”

Also, an emphasis on speech by the “friend” and the “enemies” exists in both parts of the psalm: “the voice of the enemy” (3—“friend”); “divide their tongues” (12—“enemies”): “For they are many who strive with me. God will hear and answer them” (18b-19a—“enemies”); “His speech was smoother than butter” and “His words were softer than oil” (21—“friend”). Though other terms in the psalm also imply speech, these direct statements lead to the conclusion that the central antagonist in the psalm is the “friend” who perhaps incites the “enemies” to speak ad act unfavorably against the psalmist. That the psalm emphasizes the “enemies” in the latter part of the psalm appears to support this impression.
Not to be forgotten, Westermann (Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 70) makes this cogent comment that has bearing on verse 13, “But there is an unequivocal mark that in the past has not been given sufficient attention. At the place where the change [in the tone of the psalm] occurs, almost all of these [lament] Psalms contain a waw adversative, ‘But thou O God . . . ,’ or ‘But I . . .’” Verse 13 contains a prominent “But you” (וְאַתָּ֣ה), and although these words do not by themselves change the direction of the this psalm, they certainly stand out and define the emotional low point experienced by the psalmist.
Given the somewhat “disjointed” development of Psalm 55 (see above), this summary generalizes the overall flow of the passage and includes all of verses 12-14 in the central box.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Psalm 54

Lines Scansion

NASB (In the Hebrew Bible this psalm begins with a superscription of two verses. Therefore the English verse numbers will have two less verses. The following discussion will follow the English verse numbers for convenience. The bracketed portions are altered.)

      Save me, O God, by Your name,
         And vindicate me by Your power.
      Hear my prayer, O God;
         Give ear to the words of my mouth.
      For strangers have arisen against me
         And violent men have sought my life;
         They have not set God before them. Selah.

      Behold [] God[,]
[He who is helping] me;
         The Lord is the sustainer of my soul.
      He will recompense the evil to my foes;
         Destroy them in Your faithfulness.
      Willingly I will sacrifice to You;
         I will give thanks to Your name, O LORD, for it is good.
      For He has delivered me from all trouble,
         And my eye has looked with satisfaction upon my enemies.

Effect of the Metric Center on the Psalm’s Development
Psalm 54 is a Lament of the Individual that begins with the lament and ends with declarative praise (Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 79-81). Typically, such a psalm has these elements:

            Lament (I, they, you)
            Expression of Confidence
            Petition (hear, intervene against enemies)
            Divine Oracle/Response
Expression of Confidence     
Praise/Vow to Praise

Psalm 54 restructures this pattern based on the crisis facing the psalmist:

            Invocation, 1a
            Petitions, (hear, intervene), 1b-2
            Lament (they), 3
            Expression of Confidence, 4-5a
            Petition (intervene), 5b
            Vow to Praise, 6
            Praise, 7

What stands out in this scheme is the reversal of emotions from frantic appeals to God because of the activities of the psalmist’s enemies (1-3) to the immediate and undeniable confidence that God has answered his prayers and intervened in the situation (4-7, “has delivered” and “has seen” in verse 7 are understood as Perfects of Certitude, Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 2nd ed., 30; Gesenius, para. 106, i) . The turning point in the psalm, and the metric center, is the two words beginning verse 4, “Behold God.” God is both the cause for the emotional reversal and the solution to the problem. “Behold God” is all-encompassing and, when His attributes are contemplated in the midst of a crisis, they constitute a divine response to the prayers.

The justification for altering the NASB translation (and all English translations surveyed) stems from the accents in the Masoretic text of Psalm 54.  The accents represent important punctuation and interpretation considerations. Waltke and O’Connor write (An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, para. 1.6.4), “The accent system punctuates the text and is therefore a very important feature in its syntactic analysis. . . . . “At present it is best to consider the accents as an early and relatively reliable witness to a correct interpretation of the text.”

The significant disjunctive accent in Psalm 54:4a (Deḥî or Ṭiphḥā, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, para. 15h) also occurs on the vocatives “O God” of verses 1 and 2. A disjunctive accent represents a syntactical break or pause before the following words. In verse 3 “God” also appears but with a conjunctive accent (Ṭarḥā, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, para. 15i) that joins it to the following term without a pause or break. Thus, the Masoretes, who formalized the pronunciation and interpretation of the text of the Hebrew Bible, indicated a pause after “Behold God” making the participle, “[He who is helping]” (עזר), function as a relative clause (Waltke and O’Connor (An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, para. 37.5) as in the above altered NASB translation.

At the center of the psalm, the demonstrative interjection “Behold” [הִנֵּ֣ה] abruptly “calls attention to the following noun” (Koehler, Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 252; see also Brown, Driver, Briggs. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 244-45, a. “pointing to persons”). This interjection along with the disjunctive accent on God (אֱ֭לֹהִים) takes center stage in the psalmist’s psyche. Meditating on the attributes of God soothes his soul and energizes his faith. Additional support for this emphasis on God’s attributes is the two-fold use of the “name” (שֵם, verses 3, 8), a term that “frequently means reputation,” or signifies “the nature or attributes of the person named” (Ross, Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, Vol. 4, 150). Contemplating God by the psalmist immediately evolved into a revived spirit and confidence in the positive outcome of his troubles.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Psalm 51

Lines Scansion


NASB (The Hebrew Bible includes a two-verse superscription that is not part of the Psalm proper. Therefore, the numbering in the Hebrew Bible is two verses ahead of the English Bibles. For convenience, the following discussion will follow the English verse numbers.)

1             Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your
               According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out
                      my transgressions.
2             Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
               And cleanse me from my sin.
3              For I know my transgressions,
               And my sin is ever before me.
4             Against You, You only, I have sinned
               And done what is evil in Your sight,
               So that You are justified when You speak
               And blameless when You judge.
5             Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
               And in sin my mother conceived me.
6             Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
               And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
7             Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
               Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8             Make me to hear joy and gladness,
               Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
9             Hide Your face from my sins
               And blot out all my iniquities.

10           Create in me a clean heart, O God,
               And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11           Do not cast me away from Your presence
               And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12           Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
               And sustain me with a willing spirit.
13           Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
               And sinners will be converted to You.
14           Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my
               Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
15           O Lord, open my lips,
               That my mouth may declare Your praise.
16           For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give
               You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17           The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
               A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
18           By Your favor do good to Zion;
               Build the walls of Jerusalem.
19           Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices,
               In burnt offering and whole burnt offering;
               Then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.
Effects of the Metric Center on the Psalm’s Development
Commentators generally agree that Psalm 51 is a Lament of the Individual. According to Westermann, The Psalms:Structure, Content & Message, 55-72, 132, a complete psalm of this type includes the following:
Lament (I, they, You)
Expression of Confidence
Praise/Vow of Praise
A quick perusal of Psalm 51, however, reveals that most of the elements are missing leading Tate, Psalms 51-100, 8, to conclude:
The psalm is not easily classified in the usual form-critical categories. It is usually placed in the general classification of the laments of the individual . . . .  However, such characteristic features as complaint about enemies and prayer for their defeat and/or punishment is missing, as well as any protestation of innocence on the part of the speaker in the psalm . . . , and there is not motivational appeal to God for action . . . . On the other hand, there is a full confession of sin which is without parallel in any other biblical psalm.
Since the primary focus of the psalm is confession of sin and appeals for forgiveness, some classify Psalm 51 as a Psalm of Penitence or Repentance (Westermann, The Psalms, 132.  Whatever the classification, the background situation underlying its composition indicated in the superscription is debated. Tate, Psalms, 8-12, discusses the issue, as do Bratcher and Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, 467:
The identity of the psalmist and the reason he composed this prayer are given in the Hebrew title as David’s act of adultery with Bathsheba . . . .  Most modern commentators do not believe that the title reflects the actual circumstances in which the psalm was written . . . .  Some, however, strongly defend the traditional view . . . and, like the others, recognize that the last two verses are a later addition . . . , since these verses reflect a situation which did not exist in David’s lifetime. The Jewish commentator Ibn Ezra, of the twelfth century A.D., suggested that they were added by a Jew who was in exile in Babylonia.
The psalms generally do not depend upon the actual historical circumstances to make sense out of them. In fact, they remain “historically ambiguous” so that they can apply to a broad spectrum of human experiences and this becomes one major reason for their popularity. “Poetry often develops the intensity of a moment,” writes Ross, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, I, 832.
Tate, Psalms 51-100, 12, outlines the “interlocking structure” of Psalm 51 based on two major divisions 1-9 and 10-17 plus an addendum 18-19. The point of division begins at verse 10, and metrically represents the center of the psalm.

The center can be isolated by (1) the different contents in verses 1-9 and 10-19, (2) the focus on the “heart” (לֵב) in verses 10 and 17 with the latter passage capturing the essence of verses 1-9, (3) the inclusio in verses 1-9 with “blot out” (מחֵה)  and the semi-inclusio of “wash” (root כבס) in verses 1 and 7 that effectively separate the two major divisions of the psalm, and (4) the emphases of “heart” and “spirit”—לֵב (“heart”) in verses 10 and 17; רוּחַ (“spirit”) in verses 10, 11, 12, 17—found in the latter division only and representing the “solution” to the psalmist’s spiritual dilemma.
The psalmist’s sin has “crushed” (root דכה verses 8 and 17) his inner soul described as his “heart” and “spirit.” The “spirit” comes . . . to denote the entire immaterial consciousness of man” (Payne, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 836) whereas the “heart” in its abstract meanings, . . . became the richest biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature. . . . either to the inner or immaterial nature in general or to one of the three traditional personality functions of man; emotion, thought, or will (Bowling, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 466). Psalm 51 depicts a man physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually crushed because of his sin against God. What he needs is a pure heart and a renewed spirit that he pleads for in the central verse (10).

Key repetitive terms throughout the first division of the psalm include no less than 12 references to the psalmist’s “sin” (חַטָּאת, 6 times—the verb חטא is also used once referring to “ceremonial cleansing” or “purifying,” perhaps to present seven appearances of the root חטא since the verb root טהר (“pure”) as a synonym was available and already in use at verses 4, 9, and 12; פֶּשַׁע (“transgression”), 3 times; עָוֹן (“iniquity”), 3 times). The terms that cross over into both divisions of the psalm include 4 references to “God” (אֱלֹהִ֣ים, no mention of Yahweh) and 3 references to “clean” (root טהר, also translated “pure”). Obviously the psalmist needs a “pure” heart and only the Almighty God can accomplish such a feat.