Lifting hearts to God in thanks and praise.

Posts tagged ‘Chiasm’

Saturday Psalm: 33

1 Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

For the word of the Lord is upright,
    and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
    he puts the deeps in storehouses.

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
    he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
    the plans of his heart to all generations.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

13 The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds.
16 The king is not saved by his great army;
    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
    and by its great might it cannot rescue.

18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 that he may deliver their soul from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you.

To listen to this Psalm sung, I first recommend listening to this version by Karl Kohlhase while reading not his words but the ESV version printed here or your own favorite version on BibleGateway. (Note that Karl uses verses 1-5 as a refrain between verses 11 and 12 and again at the end.) If you’d like to try some other versions (based on this Psalm but not verse by verse), how about this one by Marty Haugen, or this by Mark Haas or these two: Blessed the People and Lord Let Your Mercy from Journey Songs Third Edition, vol. 2. Then there’s Jason Silver with this lovely version that’s very close to the text. (I like to start with a sung Psalm because, like plays were written to be seen not read, Psalms were written to be sung and heard.)

The first thing I noticed in this Psalm was the couplets. Everything said has a double in the next line that furthers the meaning. That’s the highlight of Hebrew poetry, that and chiasm which is a movement in and then out again, with parallels in subject as it moves out. I don’t see chiasm much in this psalm except for the framing verses at the beginning and the end.

The second thing I noticed was that there’s no appeal to God to save from enemies! So many of the Psalms I’ve looked at so far have this element that it’s a surprise that this one doesn’t. Of course in praising God the people are reminded that he is above all, to save those who hope in him, but it’s an indirect way of encouraging people in need, and yet when we call others (or are ourselves called) to worship the true God, we are most encouraged by him.

Then the third thing I noticed was the communal nature of the psalm. The first verse doesn’t determine that the righteous are plural, so with my usual modern sensibility I think first, am I righteous? I want to be one of the righteous. But the psalm moves from address to command and reason (how and why to praise God) and truth. Verse 8 has all the earth, and verse 12 and 13 mention nation, people, and all the children of man, but it’s the ending verses that finally impressed me.

20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you.

Our soul, help, shield, heart, for we trust, hope in you. How is it that you can use a plural possessive and a singular noun? (asks the English teacher in me) It portrays a community, so tight, so close that they have oneness although they are many. That’s what hit me in this psalm. The righteous are a group of those who wait for the Lord, trust in  (our help and shield) his holy name, depend on his steadfast love while they hope in him. It’s so compelling, not just to say, “I want to be that,” but to say, “Yes, that’s where I belong. Those people are my people.”

All thanks and praise to God!

PoMo: Psalm 17

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a Psalm a day. Sometime I might post a poem of my own. Join me?

A Prayer of David.

Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry!
    Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!
From your presence let my vindication come!
    Let your eyes behold the right!

You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night,
    you have tested me, and you will find nothing;
    I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.
With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips
    I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths;
    my feet have not slipped.

I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
    incline your ear to me; hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
    O Savior of those who seek refuge
    from their adversaries at your right hand.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
    hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who do me violence,
    my deadly enemies who surround me.

10 They close their hearts to pity;
    with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
11 They have now surrounded our steps;
    they set their eyes to cast us to the ground.
12 He is like a lion eager to tear,
    as a young lion lurking in ambush.

13 Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!
    Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,
14 from men by your hand, O Lord,
    from men of the world whose portion is in this life.
You fill their womb with treasure;
    they are satisfied with children,
    and they leave their abundance to their infants.

15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
    when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

Karl Kohlhase picks the center verse of the psalm for a refrain; click here to listen. It’s appropriate because the psalm comes to a turning point with this verse. Instead of a paralleling chiasm, this psalm works into the point of verse 8 by first detailing David’s relationship with God, claims of his own righteousness tested by God in terms of what he says, what his heart loves, what violence he avoids by God’s word, what paths of the Lord he walks, and through it all he relates not only the testing of God but the aid of God by which he passes the tests. So he cries out to God to keep him as the apple of God’s eye: the beloved, the center of his care. I had no idea the image was so ancient, and the secondary, parallel image of hiding in the wings bespeaks not only care but also closeness. (I often think of under his wings as a side hug from someone with a blanket over his shoulders.)

Then the second half of the psalm details the wicked: they do violence, they do not pity, they speak arrogantly and they surround him (instead of walking God’s path) to ambush his righteousness. That is why David cries out to God to keep him in the right way: it is impossible otherwise. I can relate to this! How many times I have fallen by doing what those around me do? But, having confessed that, I also have been kept by God, pulled back onto his right way and hidden in his wings, reassured that I am beloved by him!

Verse 14 deserves a moment of reflection. Does it really mean that the men of the world from whom David seeks deliverance are characterized by receiving all good things from God? He fills their womb with children, and they leave their abundance to their babies… that’s spoken of in the Bible as a gift of God, the reward of the righteous: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.” (Proverbs 13:22) So at first I couldn’t imagine why the blessing was given to the wicked, but then I realized that he characterized them, “whose portion is in this life.” David also had children and wealth to leave them, but it’s the limited perspective of living only for this world that is the difference.

That’s why David turns again in the final couplet, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;/when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”  More than the joy of children and wealth, David looks to the joy of beholding the face of God. When he talks of awakening, I believe he means after the sleep of death, and “satisfied with your likeness” is contrasted to the previous verse’s “satisfied with children.” Not only is David asking God to keep him as the apple of his eye, David here is showing that God is the apple of David’s eye: the best and most longed for, most loved and right relationship. That’s worth imitating, with the help of the Lord. 

All thanks and praise to God!

PoMo: Psalm 3

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a Psalm a day, and perhaps posting a poem of my own. Join me? (For this Psalm it is important to know that Selah is like a stage direction, telling the reader to pause and meditate a moment before going on.)

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

Lord, how many are my foes!
    Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
    “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah[a]

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;
    I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O Lord!
    Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the Lord;
    your blessing be on your people! Selah

David is fleeing from Absalom’s precipitous takeover, and this psalm begins with a triplet of complaint: many, many, many…are saying God won’t save him. Not directly confronting his son, David focuses on all the people, his people, who have turned from him to support his son as ruler without David officially passing the reign to Absalom. This isn’t just infighting and bickering (although it occurs to me as a good example for when we face that), it’s mutiny: betrayal and opposition to the king.

Then in the second section (after the first selah), David answers their false claim that God won’t save him, first by proclaiming God his shield, his glory, and the lifter of his head, and then narrating the crying out to God and answering. Lifter of my head is an odd phrase that I didn’t understand in my youth. But in my 20s and 30s, for reasons best left untold, I felt shamed, bowed down with cares, woeful. My head actually began to droop, and my shoulders to slump. When I went to church, when I fellowshipped with others, singing the praises of God, my heart was freed and my posture straightened. My head not only rose up but my face lifted (not facelift) to the sky, and it occurred to me what “lifter of my head” meant. Can you relate? Is there something that makes your head droop, and would you like to see what happens when you proclaim God’s goodness?

A chiasm is a structural element of Hebrew poetry where the content is like an outline, only it goes in and then out again. If it were rhyme, we would mark it a, b, c, d, d, c, b, a, but instead of rhyme it’s what the lines are about that moves. The third section of this poem is a lovely example of the reversing (or d, c, b, a portion) of chiasm. Verse 5 is a parallel to verse 4 in its action: I cried aloud to the Lord/he answered me/I lay down and slept/I woke again for the Lord sustained me. Both verses go in and out (reflex?) in their own action (I cried/he answered and slept/awoke sustained by the Lord) and they parallel in referring to David’s action and then the Lord’s action.

“I will not be afraid.”(v.6) It’s important to remember that we have a choice about fear. Fear comes overwhelmingly to take away our ability to do what is right, but the Lord as a shield pushes away that fear, sometimes just far enough for us to figure out what to do. Verse 6 responds to verse 3.

Verse 7 answers verse 2: if the enemies say of David that God won’t save him, David says of his enemies that God will kick their teeth out! (maybe not literally; it’s a reference to stopping their talk) No salvation in God? Arise O Lord and save me and by doing so, answer their lies with truth.

Psalm 3 ends with a blessing for the people, even those who seem to be his foes: salvation belongs to God, his blessing on his people. The godly king is saved from fear and able to do his job of blessing the people he is entrusted with. My takeaway: Even when we are attacked from within, friendly fire in the church or home perhaps, God will save. God is our shield and glory and he restores those who cry to him. He will answer the accuser from within your community (like a father settling a fight between his children), so cry to him rather than taking on your foe. Wait for God to straighten things out and be ready to speak his blessing. This psalm is a wonderful example of how to do that.

All thanks and praise to God!