Sunday, October 20, 2013

The place of Psalm 92 in the sequential story of the Psalter

What do people really need? What do we need to know? This light of mine, this diurnal firefly that is awake by day and fitful by night, running the gamut of self-doubt, isolation, company, family, illness, fear, fullness and joy – what is its true need? I wrote it once: to be held and known. Yes but held in what and by what or in whom and by whom? If we attach ourselves to the wrong arms, what is our end?

The Psalms like the New Testament have a strong emphasis on happiness and blessing. The self-denial called for is much less onerous than imagined.

Look at the happiness. Look at the examples. Look at the history – formed and told for our benefit. Look at the poems and the elect poet: elect – chosen – beloved – canonical.

Begin with Psalm 92 – For you have made me glad יהוה in your work (92:5). Now look at the eightfold ring structure with Psalm 91. What! How could two psalms be related in such a way – must be an accident.

Psalm 92 is headed as a song to the day of the Sabbath. This is a unique inscription. We know about the 7th day. But did we imagine that it would be celebrated by the lone song in Book 4 of the Psalter? The curators of this gallery of 150 poems annotated the 17 psalms in Book 4 more sparsely than those of other Books. Two of them are prayers (90 and 102); four of them, 92, 98, 100, and 101 are also labelled psalms. The other 11 are without such a designation. Psalms 101 and 103 are of David, and Psalm 90 of Moses. The other 14 are without such an inscription.
Word and gloss * first usage
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
1
2
Vs
Stem
עליון the Most High
91:1
עליון
בו in him
1
91:2
בו
לא not
2
91:5
לא
לילה by night
91:5
לילה
יומם by day
91:5
יום
לא no
91:7
לא
בעיניך with your eyes
3
91:8
עין
תביט you will take note
4
91:8
נבט
רשׁעים the wicked
91:8
רשׁע
אתה you
5
91:9
אתה
עליון the Most High
91:9
עליון
לא not
91:10
לא
לא not
91:10
לא
בכל in all
6
91:11
כל
ידע he has known
7
91:14
ידע
שׁמי my name
8
91:14
שׁם
ימים days
91:16
יום
ליום to the day of
92:1
יום
לשׁמך to your name
8
92:2
שׁם
עליון O Most High
92:2
עליון
בלילות in the nights
92:3
לילה
לא not
92:7
לא
ידע does know
7
92:7
ידע
לא not
92:7
לא
רשׁעים the wicked
92:8
רשׁע
כל all
6
92:8
כל
ואתה but you
5
92:9
אתה
כל all
92:10
כל
ותבט and has taken note
4
92:12
נבט
עיני my eye
3
92:12
עין
ולא and no
2
92:16
לא
בו in him
1
92:16
בו
Selected words occurring in each of Psalms 91,92
You can see the ring structure in the table and guess for yourself if it is an accident. Considering that the focus of this ring is name, we might ask: what designations for God are in these two psalms? The first three repeated words in the two psalms taken together are the designations for God: Elyon, the Most High, יהוה, the Name, and Elohim, God. They are carefully placed. Elyon occurs 23 times in the Psalms – so not rarely. It occurs three times in Psalm 78 and twice in Psalm 91, and then once in several psalms. Elyon and יהוה frame Psalm 91. יהוה and God frame the two poems together. Psalms 90, 91 share 19 roots and 24% of their words. Psalms 90 and 92 share 27 roots and 39% of their words. The three psalms taken together share 9 roots accounting for 16% of their words. That’s quite a large proportion for three consecutive psalms. The new frames (repeated words) in Psalm 92 are flourish and luxuriant. This is curious considering we have just read two books filled with lamentation. Psalm 92 is also an announcement (verses 3 and 16). Is this a deliberate announcement in the face of the discouragement of the failure of the monarchy (Psalm 89), the prayer of Moses (90) and the comfort of the response to that prayer (91)?

Word and gloss
1
2
3
Vs
Stem
עליון the Most High
91:1
עליון
ליהוה to יהוה
91:2
יהוה
אלהי my God
91:2
אלוה
יהוה יהוה
91:9
יהוה
עליון the Most High
91:9
עליון
ליהוה to יהוה
92:2
יהוה
עליון O Most High
92:2
עליון
יהוה יהוה
92:5
יהוה
יהוה יהוה
92:6
יהוה
יהוה יהוה
92:9
יהוה
יהוה יהוה
92:10
יהוה
יהוה יהוה
92:14
יהוה
אלהינו our God
92:14
אלוה
יהוה יהוה
92:16
יהוה
Designations for God in Psalms 91, 92
Those transplanted in the house of יהוה in the courts of our God will flourish. Who are the transplants? The same word is used in Psalm 1:3. What if the transplants are those transplanted from the character and domain of ‘the wicked’ to the character and domain of ‘the merciful’? Psalm 89 is corporate. Psalm 90 is first person plural prayer. Psalm 91 is a singular first person answer (verse 2), a promise to a singular you (3 to 13), and a third voice speaking in the third person confirming the promises. I suggest this is the voice of the Most High. Psalm 92 then closes this opened bracket, addressing the Most High directly by the individual in celebration of the Sabbath, when God rested from all the work of creation and redemption. Psalm 92 looks ahead also. With Psalm 94 via brutes and dullards enclosing the act of the king in redeeming the people symbolized by Psalm 93.

I continue to read my Psalter - seeing more and more in it. Any reasonably translated Psalter will do. Every day there is something new for me - and I have been immersed in it for 7 years now. Read the psalms daily - it is good as this psalm claims. Good it is to give thanks to יהוה and to sing a psalm to your name O Most High.

My course in Victoria is now announced. It begins November 14, at 7:30 pm in the Church of St Barnabas, Belmont and Begbie street, Victoria, BC and I hope to be there with any of you who can make it. I am supposed to return from Winnipeg the week before to sing the Handel Dixit Dominus with the Victoria Baroque Ensemble.