Saturday, April 5, 2014

Psalm 64

Lines Scansion

NASB (The Hebrew Bible includes a one verse superscription that is not part of the Psalm proper. Therefore, the numbering in the Hebrew Bible is one verse ahead of the English Bibles.  For convenience, the following discussion will follow the English verse numbers.)
1       Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
         Preserve my life from dread of the enemy.
      Hide me from the secret counsel of evildoers,
         From the tumult of those who do iniquity,
      Who have sharpened their tongue like a sword.
         They aimed bitter speech as their arrow,
      To shoot from concealment at the blameless;
         Suddenly they shoot at him, and do not fear.
      They hold fast to themselves an evil purpose;
         They talk of laying snares secretly;
         They say,
         “Who can see them?”
      They devise injustices, saying,
         “We are ready with a well-conceived plot”;
         For the inward thought and the heart of a man are deep.
      But God will shoot at them with an arrow;
         Suddenly they will be wounded.
      So they will make him stumble;
         Their own tongue is against them;
         All who see them will shake the head.
      Then all men will fear,
         And they will declare the work of God,
         And will consider what He has done.
10     The righteous man will be glad in the LORD and will
              take refuge in Him;
         And all the upright in heart will glory.
Effect of the Metric Center on the Psalm’s Development
Psalm 64, a Lament of the Individual (Westermann, The Psalms, 55), typically includes the following segments:
Lament (“I,” “they,” “You” elements)
Expression of Confidence
As with all Psalms, however, the typical pattern gives priority to the situation in life. Psalm 64 develops in this fashion:
Invocation, 1a
Petitions, 1b-2
Lament (“they” only), 3-6
Expressions of Confidence, 7-9
            Towards God, 7
            Regarding Retribution, 8
            Expected Outcomes, 9
Praise, 10
The Psalmist begins with the petitions concerned with his own safety. The reason for his fears lies in the rather extensive descriptions of the adversaries including their arrogant sense of security (v.5, “Who can see them?”), their consummate planning (v.6a), and the depth of their wicked soul (v.6b). His confidence, however, arises as he expresses assurances that God will act on his behalf (v.7), that the wicked will reap the effects of their sins upon themselves (v.8), and that God’s actions will  become evident to all (v. 9). The psalm concludes with a declaration of praise for Yahweh’s deliverance (v.10).
The metric center of the psalm (5b) records the hubris of the opponents—they can do what they want because no one sees them ("them" refers to the speakers, the snares, or both), an attitude that stems from deep within their evil heart. Tate argues that verse 6b equals the pivotal expression in the psalm, “The inward nature and the human heart—how deep they are!” (Tate, Psalms, 132). One can agree with Tate that this equates to the theological center of the psalm but the metric center is the outward, arrogant expression of that inward state.
The connections between the verses preceding the center and those following are numerous and tie the psalm into a coherent whole:
Verses 2, 9—The works (פּעלי) of the wicked and the work (פּעל) of God
            Verses 3, 7—The arrow of the wicked (חץ) and the arrow
                                   (חץ) of God
            Verses 3, 8—The tongue (לשֹׁון) of the wicked
Verses 5, 7—The sudden (פּתאם) shooting (ירה) of an arrow by the wicked and by God
The overall message of the psalm highlights the psalmist’s anxieties over the cutting, secretive speech and hidden plots of the wicked (verses 1-6), the activity of God in response to the arrogant (verses 7-9), and praise of Yahweh by the “upright in heart” (verse 10).