Monday, October 14, 2013

Psalm 34

Lines Scansion


      I will bless the LORD at all times;
         His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
      My soul will make its boast in the LORD;
         The humble will hear it and rejoice.
      O magnify the LORD with me,
         And let us exalt His name together.
      I sought the LORD, and He answered me,
         And delivered me from all my fears.
      They looked to Him and were radiant,
         And their faces will never be ashamed.
      This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
         And saved him out of all his troubles.
      The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him,
         And rescues them.
      O taste and see that the LORD is good;
         How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
      O fear the LORD, you His saints;
         For to those who fear Him there is no want.
10     The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;
         But they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good

11     Come, you children, listen to me;
         I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12     Who is the man who desires life
         And loves length of days that he may see good?

13     Keep your tongue from evil
         And your lips from speaking deceit.
14     Depart from evil and do good;
         Seek peace and pursue it.
15     The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous
         And His ears are open to their cry.
16     The face of the LORD is against evildoers,
         To cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17     The righteous cry, and the LORD hears
         And delivers them out of all their troubles.
18     The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
         And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
19     Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
         But the LORD delivers him out of them all.
20     He keeps all his bones,
         Not one of them is broken.
21     Evil shall slay the wicked,
         And those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22     The LORD redeems the soul of His servants,
         And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.

Effect of the Metric Center on the Psalm’s Development

Psalm 34 begins in the Hebrew text with the superscription as verse 1 which is not part of the inspired text. In the discussion that follows the Hebrew verse numbers will be used which will be one number higher than in the English Bible. In the quotations this change is seen in brackets [].

 Of the center-focused psalms thus far, Psalms 25 and 34 are alphabetical. Such a design may affect the development. This was observed in Psalm 25 where the thought sequences were not as clear as in the other psalms of this genre. Psalm 34 divides itself between a Declaration of Individual Praise in verses 2-11 and a Wisdom Psalm in verses 12-23. Bratcher and Reyburn, Handbook on the Book of Psalms, 319, write,
The first part [verses 2-4] is a hymn of praise to Yahweh, followed by a tribute to his provident care, of which the psalmist had personal experience [verses 5-11]. The main body of the psalm [verses 12-23] is in the form of instruction concerning the right way to live and its rewards, and the punishment awaiting those who disregard God’s laws.

Tesh and Zorn, Psalms, 265, concur, “Moreover, the psalm does not lend itself to easy classification according to any one of the usually recognized types. The first part includes praise and thanksgiving, whereas verses [12–23] are didactic in nature, in the pattern of wisdom literature.” The Pulpit Commentary (I, 255) divides the psalm at verse 12 as well, “The second, didactic, part of the psalm here begins.” Ellsworth, Opening Up Psalms, 103, following suit, “The key phrase for this section is found in verse [12]: ‘Come, you children, listen to me; ….’”

The center of the psalm in the Hebrew text comprises verses 12 and 13. Metrically speaking, verses 2-11 have approximately 59 beats; verses 14-23, 60 beats. Interestingly, Craigie, Psalms, 276-77, has 62 measured beats on each side of the center verses. He also writes (282), “In the context of OT theology, one of the psalm’s most profound insights concerns the instruction on the fear of the Lord      (v 12).”  

Verses 12 and 13 not only divide the psalm, but also highlights the varying emphases in the two parts. In verse 12 the Psalmist implores the children to listen to him as he teaches them about the fear of Yahweh. Bowling (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, I, 401, italics added) explains, When God is the object of fear [יראה], the emphasis is . . . upon awe or reverence. This attitude of reverence is the basis for real wisdom.” The word “fear” [יראה] appears four times: verses 8, 10 twice, 12.  It captures the awe and reverence of verses 2-11 in praising Yahweh for his presence and deliverance.  Six occurrences of words of deliverance are found in the Psalm [נצל three times; ישע twice; חלץ once], three in the first part and three in the second.

Verse 13 focuses the wisdom aspects of the psalm, and it does so with a question that sets up verses 14-23, “Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that he may see good?” The answer begins with a series of six imperatives (14—נצר, stated and implied; 15—סור, עשה, בקש, רדף) and the results of obedience to these commands show the blessings that come upon the righteous 
(צדיק)—mentioned three times in the latter part of the Psalm: verses 16, 20, 22—and the ruin that comes upon the wicked for disobedience.

It would appear, in conclusion, that Psalm 34 consists of two different sections and that the central verses point both backwards and forwards: verse 12 with the repetition of “fear” looks back in worship and verse 13 with the wisdom question looks ahead focusing on God’s blessings on the righteous and judgment on the wicked.