Saturday, October 26, 2013

Psalms 9-16


I can see that there will be certain challenges in blogging through the Psalms. The reading plan for day 165 prescribed Psalms 1-8, a manageable portion of Scripture for reading. Those eight short psalms were not connected thematically. Neither are the seven-or-eight psalms assigned for today.

That's right, seven or eight. Psalms 9 and 10 were most likely a single composition. The Septuagint and Jerome's Vulgate both treated them as one Psalm. There is an alphabetical acrostic pattern that spans the two psalms in Hebrew. (Alphabetical acrostics occur in other psalms as well). In the case of Psalms 9-10 the pattern is imperfect. Some letters are omitted. I'm not sure if this represents the circumstances of their composition or a corruption in the text.

All of the psalms in today's reading have ancient headings ascribing their authorship to David. All of them, that is, except Psalm 10 which has no heading, another bit of evidence suggesting that 9 and 10 are actually a single work. Together they make up a prayer for God's help against enemies.

The ascription of any  of the Psalms to David is at least debatable, probably improbable, and possibly impossible. Those psalms that are related to specific incidents in the life of David do suggest the kind of circumstances in which these prayers and songs might be useful.

Psalm 11 is a song of trust. Psalms 12 and 13 are prayers for deliverance.

Psalm 14 can probably be categorized as wisdom literature. It begins:

"Fools say in their heart, 'There is no God.'"

In spite of the way that fundamentalists sometimes quote this verse, it is not a denunciation of philosophical atheism. That concept did not exist in ancient Israel. Psalm 14 is, rather, a condemnation of godless behavior. Of those who act as if God were not a factor.

Psalm 15 may be a liturgy for entering the temple. Interestingly it is not ritual cleanness that gains one admission to the temple, but moral rightness.

Psalm 16 is a statement of faith in YHWH. The psalmist lives among people who worship other gods. I'm sure that scholars have suggested dates for the composition of this psalm. Shooting from the hip I'd say that it fits any number of times in the history of Israel from settlement to exile.

That's the thing about the psalms. They were composed at specific times, for particular purposes, and to address unique circumstances but they can easily be generalized to the situations in which readers find themselves.

Anyway, the challenge of blogging the psalms is going to be dealing with the sheer volume of thematic matter contained in relatively few words.

Next: Psalms 17-20

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