Monday, January 28, 2008

Day 28: Psalm 7&8

READING: Psalms 7 and 8

BACKGROUND: The Prayer and Poetry of the Psalms
I, Susanne, love reading and praying the Psalms. One of the reasons that I have been so devoted to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is the Psalter in the back which lays out all 150 Psalms to be read during Morning and Evening Prayer over thirty days. So by reading the Psalms set out for the 1st Morning, 1st Evening, 2nd Morning, 2nd Evening, etc., I can pray through the Psalms each month. I have been far less than perfectly consistent, but still I have read through the Psalms at least five times (conservatively) last year, and I have been praying the Psalter for at least the past five years. You do the math. :)

Obviously, the Psalms are poetry – gorgeous poetry. Rather than having a rhyme scheme and metrical pattern, the Psalms are constructed around repetition. Certain words and phrases are repeated to create a certain effect, mood, tone, etc. Plus, poetry based on repetition is much easier to learn and memorize which is a true blessing to us who desire to learn the Psalms “by heart.” Rhyming and metrical poetry can be quite difficult to translate and maintain the original meaning and craftsmanship, so it makes perfect sense that God’s poetry is written in the most easily translatable manner.

The Psalms express the full range of human emotion, from joyful praise to heartrending contrition and repentance even to anger at God for His seeming indifference. Psalms were specifically designed to be repeated – truly they are an oral poetic form. In monastic life, and especially according to the Rule of St. Benedict, it was and still is common for a brother to read the Psalms aloud while the others eat their meals; in this way, the community listens to the entire Book of Psalms each week. Each week! So cool. Plus, after the Book of Isaiah, the Psalms are the most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament. So being familiar with the Psalms is an important aid to reading and understanding the New Testament.

So let’s look at Psalm 7. Under the title for Psalm 7, my KJV Bible states that this Psalm is a “prayer of deliverance,” a “Shiggaion [a meditation or song] of David, which he sang unto the Lord, concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite.” A footnote mentions that Cush the Benjamite was evidently one of Saul’s radical family members. As we read through this poem, we can see that David is quite confident that his own innocence will be proven (vv. 3-5) despite the slander spoken against him, and David is also certain that God will defend him and defeat this Cush guy (vv. 6-17).

The first and the last verses are the ones that draw my attention the most. Verse one gives us the assurance of trusting in God and also lays out the theme of deliverance of this Psalm: “O Lord my God, in thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me…” (KJV). This verse provides an example of climactic parallelism in which the second line refines, develops, or completes the thoughts of the first line. I pray this verse when life seems to be coming at me from every direction and when I know I must depend on God’s strength and not my own. We all need deliverance, whether eternal deliverance through Christ or daily deliverance from our besetting sins as well as from the Enemy who seeks our destruction.

The last verse of Psalm 7 reads: “I will praise the Lord according to his righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high.” Aaaah, that’s a wonderful verse to pray as we celebrate all that God gives to us, delivers us from, as well as whom we celebrate: The Lord Most High! I love that verse! It reminds us also that the Psalms were songs as well as poetry. The name for the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures is “Tehillim,” which means “Songs of Praise.”

Psalm 8 is very dear to me as the kids and I memorized it last year as part of our Sonlight home school religion curriculum. In my study Bible under the Psalm’s title, it reads “God’s glory and man’s honor.” It’s one of my favorite praise Psalms as it acknowledges the majesty and grandeur of our Creator and His Creation in glorious language, most especially His creation of humankind. Verse 5 states, “For thou hast made him [humankind] a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor.” Literally, that verse should be translated “a little lower than God” (Hebrew "Elohim," the normal generic word for God). However, the Septuagint translated the word as “angels,” and this translation using “angels” is quoted in Hebrews 2:6-8. The word can be taken loosely as “divine beings” which could refer to both God and the angels. Either way, it’s a wonderfully poetic way of celebrating our Creator and His joy in creating this world, and especially us.

Besides remembering the old praise song, I always thrill to the almost rhetorical question: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” And then as we read the rest of the Psalm, we find out the answers – the many answers – and the overall answer, which is: “It’s God’s perfect plan.” He made us – He gave us charge over His beautiful Creation – He “hast crowned [us] with glory and honor.” What an amazing, incredible, unfathomable God we serve!

I always read the Psalms aloud, just so I can hear the poetry. In my 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the Psalter translation is that of the Great Bible of 1540, predating the King James Version by 70 years. Sometimes it’s a little hard to fathom, but oh! The poetry!!!! It’s simply lovely!!! I encourage you to read the Psalms in one of the older translations that do justice to the grandeur and poetry of the Psalms. This is one time that The Message falls flat on its face – a modern “hip” translation loses the diction and repetition and beauty of the older translations. And I encourage you as well: Read them aloud. Slowly. Pray them as you read them. I love to read Psalms aloud with a candle lit before me – it puts me in the frame of mind to worship. And worship is central to the Psalms. They’re there as an aid to worship our amazing God. So enjoy them in a new way today – savor the language. Notice the repetition. And pray them.

“O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” We honor and praise you, Lord Most High, for giving us the gift of Your Word. Thank you that You created Your Word in such a way that we can not only learn and receive instruction in righteousness but that we can also turn Your Word back to You in prayer and praise! Thank you for making the Psalms voice all our range of human emotion so that we can come to this incredible poetry collection and find a prayer that expresses our hearts, whether we feel joy, thanksgiving, and praise or pain, bewilderment, and repentance. We honor You as the true Poet of our Hearts, O Lord our God. Amen.
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