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.