Thursday, June 24, 2010

OT Gospel Doctrine Lesson #25 - Psalms

OT Gospel Doctrine Lesson #25, Let Every Thing That Hath Breath Praise the Lord

The Psalms are composed of temple/tabernacle hymns by David and some of the priests. I will not be discussing the contents established in the lesson plan for Sunday School, as it is available here in the teacher’s manual:

The Psalms covers so many concepts that not all can be easily done in one lesson. Sadly, when we try to cover the entire Old Testament in a single year, we miss out on some of the best poetry and teachings in the scriptures. And that is what we find in Psalms.

In Hebrew, Psalms is: Th'hilliym or Tehillim‎, תְהִלִּים. It simply means, “Praises.” When reading Psalms, it is important to focus on the location where these were anciently sung: in front of the Tabernacle and in holy settings. There are 150 songs or hymns in Psalms. Some are long, and often may be combined chants. The Psalms were meant to be sung or chanted, and some even have instrumentation and note the tune to be played. However, since none come with musical annotation, we do not know what the original music was like.

Muslims believe David received the Psalms in the same way that Moses received the Torah, or Mohammad received the Quran.

Poetry in Psalms

Ancient Hebrew poetry is very different than what we consider poetry today. They did not rhyme lines, nor did they begin with someone from Nantucket....

There are different ancient forms of poetry used in Psalms. One form is to use the holy language within itself. For example, in Psalms 145, we find an alphabetic acrostic. Every line begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the first starting with “aleph” (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) and so on.

Parallelism is another form of poetry in Psalms: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Ps 119:105). In this line, we find parallel concepts: “lamp to my feet” and “light for my path.” It emphasizes the concept the Psalmist wishes to impress upon us. Given in a song for worshipers to hear, it impresses the concept twice upon their minds and hearts.

In Psalms 15, we read:

1 Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
3 He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.

Here we find parallels between those dwelling in the tabernacle and holy hill (Zion); walking uprightly, doing righteousness and speaking truth; and then the evil acts of backbiting with his tongue, doeth evil to his neighbour, taketh a reproach against his neighbor. Sung to a congregation, it would be hard for them to miss the concepts being impressed upon their minds through repetition.

Chiasmus also is a form of poetry found in Psalms. In this form of parallelism, we find nested levels of sameness or opposites. Some can be very intricate, while others more basic.

The form for a basic chiasmus structure is:

The aa lines match, bb lines match themselves, etc.

Here we find a chiasmus in Psalms 29 to consider. I have placed in parentheses marks to show which lines line up:

Psalm 29
(aa)1 Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength. 2 Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

(bb)3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters.

(cc) 4 The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

(dd)5 The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon. 6 He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.
(ee)7 The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.

(dd)8 The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh. 9 The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests:
(cc)and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.

(bb)10 The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.

(aa) 11 The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.
Here we see parallels in the lines, working from both ends into the center. There are about 30 chiasmus in the various chapters of Psalms that I’m aware of.

The Psalms Scroll (11QPs)

Psalms Scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls

Among the findings at Qumran in Israel are the Dead Sea Scrolls. These were initially discovered in 1947 and have exploded onto the scene of Hebrew scholarship since then. The Psalms Scroll was discovered in Cave 11 (so we get the scientific label: 11QPs - Cave 11, Qumran, Psalms).

In the Psalms Scroll there is actually an additional Psalm (151). This is also found in the Greek Septuagint, but was thought to be a later addition until it was also found at Qumran in Hebrew.
1. I was the smallest among my brothers,
and the youngest in my father’s household.
I used to take care of my father’s sheep.

2 My hands constructed a musical instrument;
my fingers tuned a harp.

3 Who will announce this to my Lord?
The Lord himself—he is listening.

4 He himself sent his messenger
and took me from my father’s sheep,
and anointed me with his anointing oil.

5 My brothers were handsome and big,
but the Lord did not approve of them.

6 I went out to meet the foreigner (Goliath);
he called down curses on me by his idols.

7 But I pulled out his own sword;
I beheaded him and thereby removed reproach from the Israelites.

Such a hymn may seem gruesome to sing in the Tabernacle, but the Psalms often denoted victory over one’s enemies. So important was this event in Israelite history that Goliath’s sword and armor were placed in the Tabernacle as part of the national treasures. The adult David would retrieve the sword later to use as he was being chased by Saul.

Modern Use

Modern Jews integrate Psalms into many of their feasts and festivals. Portions of Psalms are recited at virtually every Sabbath service. Many Jews will make it a point to read the entire Psalms weekly or monthly. Orthodox Jews will often plan on reading all of Psalms on the Sabbath prior to services each week. When a Jewish person dies, it is traditional for someone to continuously read Psalms over the body until burial occurs.

Early Christians used Psalms. Over 60 Psalms are referenced in the New Testament. Some Churches, such as the Reformed and Westminster Presbyterian Churches only sing the Psalms in their services.

Imagine introducing such poetry and imagery into our children’s lives, and making it a frequent event. Perhaps a section can be read as a family each Sunday, helping them to see the blessings of God, the proper form of Praise that is demonstrated within the Psalms, and the beauty of song in that praise. Chant them, don’t just read them. See how a sing-song form can bring out the poetry and power in each of these hymns.

A Few Beautiful Psalms

Let me finish by sharing a few touching praises from David’s Psalms:

Psalm 8
3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the gods, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:

Psalm 23
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.


Psalms in Wikipedia:

Psalms 151:

Examples of Poetic Parallelism:

List of Chiasmus in Psalms and the Bible:

Psalms Scroll from Dead Sea Scrolls:

Psalms quoted in New Testament:

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