Monday, September 01, 2008


One really cannot do reduction of complexity but one must. It is the nature of our language that we name. It is the nature of our writing systems that we compress meaning. But something is incompressible. In my first portrait of the psalter (here) I compressed every psalm to one summary word or short phrase. Too small.

In the English Psalter, the Latin incipit, the first phrase of the psalm, is intended to remind the reader of the whole. Now I want to beef up my somewhat random short phrase to a brief 1 or 2 sentence summary. The purpose is to prepare a conceptual framework in which the remaining 120 psalms can fit (or not). In later posts, I will list frequently used words and rarely used words in these psalms to give a measure - if rough - of the concepts in the psalm relative to the themes in the psalter. And also to see if the gut feel that these psalms tie together is supported by the word usage.

Psalm 1: Beatus vir - Two Ways
The teaching of יְהוָה is a given and a joy. On the one hand a fruitful tree is portrayed. On the other, the fruitlessness of the wicked.
Psalm 2: Quare fremuerunt gentes - יְהוָה's Anointed
Given rebellious turbulence, nations and peoples in disorder, there is a promise of mockery in heaven and the security of the king set in Zion who will inherit to the ends of the world. Sheltering promises joy.
Psalm 3: Domine quid multiplicati sunt - Distressed
David is threatened by many enemies who mock: No salvation for you. He counters with 'But you, יְהוָה '. And is satisfied for himself and for the people.
Psalm 4: Cum invocarem exaudivit me - Joy
David prays but is rebuked. Yet he repeats his faith in the covenant promise. In his solitude, he hears good advice and sleeps in peace.
Psalm 5: Verba mea auribus percipe Domine - Morning
David approaches with a whisper, repeats his concern about enemies, repeats his confidence in the promises, repeats his confidence in the joy of those who take refuge in יְהוָה .
Psalm 6: Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me - Private Rebuke
David is rebuked and knows it. In fear he turns to plea his weakness. He remains confident in spite of the rebuke. He will be directly reminded in Psalm 38.
Psalms 3-6 are a unit exploring both David's confidence and the turmoil in his own spirit that shakes him - but he does not lose heart. [Bug-induced sentence deleted!] At the end of the Psalter, there is a recapitulation of this Davidic plea for help and recognition of weakness.

Psalm 140: Eripe me Domine ab homine malo - Poison
The psalmist prays for deliverance from violence and and those who slander, set a trap, spread bindings and roadside snares. His confidence is stated for the afflicted, the poor and the righteous.
Psalm 141: Domine clamavi ad te - One escape
This psalm is a prayer for deliverance from one's own self-deception as well as the trap, snares and nets of the wicked.
Psalm 142: Voce mea ad Dominum clamavi - Mature
Another prayer, the last of the maskil (insight), for deliverance from the hidden trap, a plea for refuge from stronger persecutors, and the hope of maturity.
Psalm 143: Domine exaudi orationem meam - Being
The link with Psalm 6 (and the cluster of personal psalms at the beginning of the psalter) is in verse 2: And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight no man living shall be justified.
Psalm 149: Cantate Domino canticum novum - Righteous!
The ones under the mercy of God get to bind in chains the kings of those nations. While the verbal repetition from Psalm 2 is striking, the tone of joy in יְהוָה is new - a new song.
To be continued

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