God is not a stern, heavy-handed professor who crosses out the needs and heartfelt cries of our prayers with a large red pen, saying, “No, you are reading my psalms incorrectly.”
How This Post Developed
Help me to understand what your precepts mean! Then I can meditate on your marvelous teachings. (Psalm 119:27 NET)
Sometimes a portion of Scripture opens to the understanding in a burst, a flash, all at once, like an experiencing directly in our heart. Gifts like these humble us, causing us to worship God, to thank him for his blessings in Christ, and to be amazed that the Spirit can speak his Word like this to us in such an intimate way. Other times, Scripture seems more like a brick wall, impenetrable, unyielding, or like hard dirt that must be mined. When meaning comes forth and gems begin to appear, once again, the heart is humbled, and we stand amazed at God for his goodness to us, his love toward us as displayed in his Word. This psalm yielded to this author without bursts, but with much prayer and multiple, patient readings. When the writer then places her thoughts alongside those of her favorite commentators and finds that she is in the ballpark, not far from the mark of respected others, she is humbly thankful for the confirmation of her meditation.
Psalms were written during the period of time when other Ancient Near Eastern literature was written. As a genre, the Psalter can sound remote to our modern ear. This need not be, since the psalms were intended for performance in Israel’s worship, whether through singing, recitation, reading, or teaching. Many reading this article may be familiar with a style of literary presentation called readers theater (or reader’s theater or readers’ theater). This is a minimalist performance in which actors read a script onstage in performance without memorization. There is no full set, nor full costumes. Readers theater is basically dramatic reading. As a dramatic production, readers theater can utilize a narrator, a chorus, individual characters, and dramatic tools such as flashbacks and fast forwards. Interactions between these are kept simple.
It is helpful to our modern ear to envision a specific psalm as readers theater. Given the dramatic nature of psalms, various timeframes are discernible, important periods of dramatic time, all revolving around Christ as center. These include the pre-Christ setting (prophetic), the incarnation (historical), the post-resurrection (historical), the end times (prophetic) and the eternal (by faith). Individual speeches within a given psalm may be placed in any one of these time frames, and they do interchange within single psalms.
The author’s viewpoint in the psalms is eternal. God the ultimate writer is not constrained by an Ancient Near Eastern time frame nor by any other. God is as concerned with us the present day readers as much as he was concerned with those who lived during the original recording of Scripture. Paul, the New Testament writer of many biblical letters, or epistles, appropriated Old Testament Scripture as having been recorded for application during his particular era, which was very future to the time when historical events were recorded in Israel’s distant past.
1 Corinthians 10:6 These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did. (NET)
1 Corinthians 10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. (NET)
We today are still part of the biblical time frame named by Paul as “the ends of the ages.” Actually, we are nearer to the final ending than Paul was. What was true for Paul is true for us. God most definitely wants us to appropriate ancient Scripture as our own, relevant and applicable for today. God is not a stern, heavy-handed professor who crosses out the needs and heartfelt cries of our prayers with a large red pen, saying, “No, you are reading my psalms incorrectly.” It is his very own Holy Spirit who opens and intimately connects the words of the Psalter with our own hearts and life circumstances. He wants us to apply his psalms in personal ways in order to make them our very own.
Psalms 9 and 10: A Dramatic Interpretation
This is how I read these two psalms, how they make the most sense to me.
Psalms 9 and 10 represent three clearly discernible dramatic characters, or prosopa: 1) God, 2) the righteous, poor and needy individual, and 3) the wicked. As a Readers Theater, five speaking parts would be assigned: 1) God, 2) the righteous poor and needy first person singular speaker, 3) the wicked person(s), 4) a narrator representing God, and 5) a chorus/congregation. These are abbreviated in the script below as: God, the Righteous, the Wicked, Narrator, and Chorus.
The narrator may be thought of as a holy person, perhaps the Holy Spirit, who stands outside the action and commands a perfect view of all. He clearly advocates for God. The Chorus represents the congregation, both Old Testament and New. They also are clearly on God’s team. There is by no means any hard and fast line between the Narrator’s speeches and the lines of the Chorus. In most cases, one character could read both of these roles. Assigning two roles is an appeal to a more interesting readers theater.
Psalm 9 (ESV)
the Righteous: [in prayer to God] Psalm 9:1 To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David. I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
3 When my enemies turn back, they stumble and perish before your presence.
4 For you have maintained my just cause; you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.
5 You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
6 The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.
Narrator: [speaking about Christ the Lord] 7 But the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice,
8 and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.
9 The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
Narrator: [speaking to Christ the Lord] 10 And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
Narrator: [speaking to the Chorus/Congregation about Christ the Lord] 11 Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
the Righteous: [a flashback prayer illustrating “the cry of the afflicted” from the previous verse. The afflicted one is Christ in his incarnation] 13 Be gracious to me, O LORD! See my affliction from those who hate me, O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises, that in the gates of the daughter of Zion I may rejoice in your salvation.
Narrator: [from the point of view of the future eternity looking back] 15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
Chorus: 16 The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah
Narrator: 17 The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.
18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.
Chorus: [with a strong voice of triumph in address to Christ the Lord] 19 Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you!
20 Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah
Psalm 10 (ESV unless otherwise noted)
the Righteous: Psalm 10:1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Narrator: 2 In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
3 For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.
4a In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, …
the Wicked: 4b … “There is no God.”
Narrator: 5 His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
6a He says in his heart, …
the Wicked: 6b … “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”
Narrator: 7 His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
8 He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
9 he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
10 The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.
11a He says in his heart, …
the Wicked: 11b … “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
the Righteous: 12 Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.
Chorus: 13a Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, …
the Wicked: 13b … “You will not call to account”?
Narrator: [to the Risen and Reigning Christ:] 14 You have taken notice, for you always see one who inflicts pain and suffering. The unfortunate victim entrusts his cause to you; you deliver the fatherless. 15 Break the arm of the wicked and evil man! Hold him accountable for his wicked deeds, which he thought you would not discover. (NET)
Chorus: [expressing faith for the present moment and faith for the eternal future] 16 The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. 17 O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear 18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
Summary and Conclusion
The above represents one way of dividing Psalms 9 and 10 for performance in a Readers Theater setting. This is by no means the only way of dividing the script. The goal, however, is that the reader may begin to perceive for herself that there is speech in the various psalms of the Psalter, that more than one voice and one point of view are represented. Psalms are meant to be performed. They lend themselves easily to performance because they deal honestly and passionately with life’s most poignant times of crises. Where we walk, Christ, the ultimate human being, walked before us during his incarnation. Listen to the words of his prayers as man, relate the prayers, Christ as man, and the triune Godhead to yourself, and be blessed. God, as ultimate author, wrote the psalms for all believers of all ages to be active participants in them.
The needs and concerns of summer have already overtaken me. This will be the last post of the Christ in the Psalms series until next fall, Lord willing. My blessings!