Thursday, October 24, 2013

Psalms 1-8


I don't think it is an overstatement to say that the book of Psalms is the beating heart of ancient Israel's faith. The book is a collection of prayers, songs, poems, and liturgies. It expresses the full gamut of human response to God from lament to praise, from anger and alienation to trust and elation.

I have often wondered, and sometimes asked, how people who treat the Bible as the more-or-less direct words of God deal with the Psalms. There are a few oracles among the psalms but mostly the words of this book are addressed to God. I've never heard a satisfying answer to that question.

 The book of Psalms is made up of 150 individual psalms, all of which follow the conventions of Hebrew poetry. There are five subsections called "Books." The first "Book" is made up of Psalms 1-41. Many of the Psalms have ancient headings that contain musical instructions, authorial attributions, imagined circumstances for their composition, etc.These headings are not part of the psalms proper,

Scholars categorize the psalms in various ways, depending on their content, probable use, or other characteristics. I'll mention those as we go along but, for the purposes of this Year of Blogging Biblically, I'm more interested in the message of the individual psalms than in classifying them.

Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm. It contrasts the righteous who "delight in YHWH's torah" (v.2) with the wicked. Torah is usually translated "law" but the concept is broader than that. Torah is God's good instruction for his people. The righteous flourish. The wicked cannot withstand judgment (v. 5). This probably isn't about a final judgment. Rather it means that the wicked fold under pressure.

Psalm 2 may have been composed for a king's coronation. The kings of other nations, it declares, should fear YHWH's anointed. In Christian use this psalm is used in reference to the Christ. The Gospels quote v. 7 at Jesus' baptism.

The heading for Psalm 3 attributes it to king David "when he fled from his son Absalom." It is a prayer requesting deliverance from enemies and expressing trust. Psalm 3 is the first of the psalms to include the word selah. No one is quite sure what selah means but it is usually taken to be a musical instruction. Whatever it means, Mike Farris rocks with it.

Psalms 4-8 also have headings attributing their composition to David. Psalms 4 and 5 are the words of an individual asking YHWH's help against enemies. Psalm 6 is a prayer for recovery from illness. Psalm 7, perhaps, the prayer of an innocent who has been falsely accused.

Psalm 8 praises God the Creator. It asks the same question (v. 4) that Job asked of YHWH: "What are humans that you pay them any mind?" In Job it meant that God was a meddlesome micromanager. Here, God made humans "just a little lower than the angels" (v. 5) and put all the animals under them.

There is more to consider, such as: strange words like Shiggaion (Psalm 7 heading, a lament?) and Gittith (Psalm 8 heading, a tune?), foreign concepts like Sheol (Psalm 6:5, the "pit," the shadowy realm of the dead from which no one returns), vivid images ("Their throats are like open graves" (Pslam 5:9), and ancient cosmology (Psalm 8:1-6).

But let this suffice for now.

Next: Psalms 9-16

No comments:

Post a Comment