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Sister of Psalm 22: Psalm 102

Dialogue functions as a prophetic tool for the Spirit’s announcement centuries ahead of time that the divine Christ would be incarnated as a human being who would suffer greatly.

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Psalm 102 is a sister to Psalm 22.

[Please feel free to jump down to the Summary and Conclusion at the end of this article.]

Speakers. Although it is true that Psalm 22 attributes David as its author, while Psalm 102 makes no attribution, I believe the in-character persona of the first person speaker is identical. The character is Christ, God’s Son, and the setting is his passion. I can say this because both psalms are quoted in the New Testament with the Son identified as the speaker.

Concerning this identification, Psalm 22 is the easier to ascertain. A portion of verse 1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (ESV), is placed by gospel writers Matthew and Mark as proceeding from the lips of Christ, as he hung upon the cross (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Psalm 102:25-26 is cited in Hebrews 1:10-12. The author of the letter attributes this quotation to God and states that in the quotation God addresses the Son (Hebrews 1:8). Going back to Psalm 102, we discover that since God addresses the Son in verses 25-26, then it must be in reply to the Son’s addressing God in verses 23-24, “He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days. ‘O my God,’ I say, ‘take me not away in the midst of my days…'” God then replies, as in Hebrews, “25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, 27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.” (ESV)

Pattern. Both Psalm 22 and Psalm 102 follow a pattern of 1) statement of suffering by a first person singular speaker, which, as demonstrated above, is the in-character persona of Christ. 2) Following the statement of suffering is an objection in a different voice, which might be paraphrased, “But your greatness, Lord, extends far beyond this suffering.” 3) Following the objection, the first person singular voice of Christ provides further evidence of suffering contra the objection. 4) The psalm resolves the conflict in final statements of the glory of Christ in a voice not the sufferer’s own.

1. Suffering. In both Psalm 22 and Psalm 102, the first person singular in-character persona expresses great suffering.

Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (ESV) … 

11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
12 Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet–
17 I can count all my bones– they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (ESV)

Psalm 102:1 A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD. Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you!
2 Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!
3 For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.
4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread.
5 Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh.
6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places;
7 I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
8 All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse.
9 For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink,
10 because of your indignation and anger; for you have taken me up and thrown me down.
11 My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. (ESV)

2. Objection. Both psalms record objections to the initial statements of the speaker’s suffering.

Psalm 22 Recap of Suffering: 1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Objection: 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 

[See Dialogue in Psalm 22 for an explanation of how these verses might be considered an objection by a chorus of speakers.]

Psalm 102 Recap of Suffering: 1 A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD… 3 For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. 4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread. 5 … my bones cling to my flesh. 6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; 7 I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. 8 All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse. 9 For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink, 10 … for you have taken me up and thrown me down. 11 My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. (ESV)

Objection: 12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. 13 You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come. 14 For your servants hold her stones dear and have pity on her dust. 15 Nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. 16 For the LORD builds up Zion; he appears in his glory; 17 he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer. 18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD: 19 that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the LORD looked at the earth, 20 to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, 21 that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD, and in Jerusalem his praise, 22 when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the LORD. (ESV)

John Barclay attributes verses 12-22 to speech by the Father through the Holy Spirit to the Son. [Barclay, John, The Psalms of David, 332. While most commentators do not share his attribution, I share most of it, independently. I cite Barclay here as confirmation of this assignment of multiple speakers. The topic of dialogue in Psalm 102 will receive an article of its own.]

3. Protest contra the objection: The speaker protests against the objection with further evidence of his suffering. The objection points to the essential being of the sufferer as far and beyond greater than the quality of the suffering would seem to suggest might be possible. That is, the first person speaker, because of his suffering, appears to limit his identity, while the objectors expand and elevate his identity. The first person singular speaker then replies with further evidence that indeed, his suffering has been extreme.

Psalm 22 Objection: 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Protestation Contra Objection:  6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (ESV)

Psalm 102 Objection: 12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. 13 You will arise and have pity on Zion… [through verse 22]

Protestation Contra Objection: 23 He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days.
24a “O my God,” I say, “take me not away in the midst of my days … (ESV)

4. Resolution by means of a final statement of the glory of Christ (the sufferer) in a voice not the sufferer’s own:

Psalm 22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. 28 For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. 29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. 30 Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; 31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
(ESV) 
[See Dialogue in Psalm 22 for an explanation of how this portion might be considered as speech by a persona different than the sufferer. The article also discusses how this portion might apply to both God and his Christ.]

Psalm 102:25 In the beginning thou, O Lord, didst lay the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands. 26 They shall perish, but thou remainest: and they all shall wax old as a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them, and they shall be changed. 27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. 28 The children of thy servants shall dwell securely, and their seed shall prosper for ever. (Septuagint English)

Summary and Conclusion. This article seeks to demonstrate how Psalm 22 and Psalm 102 follow a similar pattern of organization. The pattern has four steps: 1) Statement of suffering by a first person singular speaker, 2) Objection to the statement by a different speaker(s), 3) Contra the objection, response by the initial speaker with further evidence of suffering, and 4) Final statement of the glory of the sufferer above and beyond (outside the realm of) his suffering. The significance of observing this pattern is to realize that Psalms is a unified whole that speaks prophetically of the suffering of the Christ to come. The New Testament authors understood and utilized the prophetic role of Psalms, as witnessed by their quotations of them.

By means of dialogue, both psalms emphasize the human nature of Christ, while also emphasizing his divinity. It is as a human being that the Christ suffers, with the suffering expressed through the voice of a first person singular speaker. Part of the dramatic pathos of each psalm lies in the reader’s discovery that Christ the divine Son suffered so greatly as a human being that for encouragement he needed to be reminded of his divine identity. A chorus of God’s people remind him in Psalm 22, while in Psalm 102, God himself reminds his incarnated Son that he is divine. As mentioned, the dialogue functions as a prophetic tool for the Spirit’s announcement centuries ahead of time that the divine Christ would be incarnated as a human being who would suffer greatly.

Dialogue in Psalm 22

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Those who have been reading my blog for some time know that my premises concerning Psalms are that 1) Psalms are written by and large about Christ, and 2) Psalms contain dialogue.

Disclaimer: I promise that the original ideas (to the best of my knowledge they are original) presented here, concerning verses 3-5, are neither simple for me as author to compose, nor as readers will they be simple for you to follow. This psalm requires effort and takes time.

Concerning dialogue, many psalms contain conversation, or speech, directed from one party to another. The speech occurs in blocks of varying length to or from the major characters. Considered as a unified whole, the major characters in Psalms are 1) God, 2) His Son the King, 3) the King’s people, 4) God’s enemies, who are also enemies of the King, and 5) at times, an unidentified narrator.

Psalms is a high drama that tells the story of God’s chosen King and his people. Once the reader has perceived and experienced speech in certain of the psalms, it proves difficult not to look for and find it in other psalms. The speech and drama expressed in individual psalms unites them into a continuous, passionate story about the main characters, especially God’s Son, the King.

Psalms with clear examples of speech include Psalms 2, 89, and 110. Hebrews 1 quotes several psalms as though God himself were speaking directly about his Son through them. Psalm 22 also contains speech.

Psalm 22 and Speech

1. First Person Singular (verses 1-2, 6-21) Speaker: the psalmist, the Lord, Christ at his passion. Christ spoke a portion of verse 1 while hanging on the cross (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1a, ESV) Verse 1 in particular marks this psalm as prophetic. Addressee: God

2. Third person reported speech (verses 7-8). Speaker: The first person speaker of verses 1-2 and 6 is quoting in third person what the mockers are saying to him. Addressee: those whom the first person speaker addresses in verses 3-5 (see below.)

Within the actual setting of the Crucifixion event of the Christ, i.e., Jesus Christ’s being crucified, there really was a chorus of mockers present at the foot of the cross who spoke words similar to those of Psalm 22: 6-7. Matthew records various examples of mockers in Matthew 27:39-44. (See also Mark 15:29-32.) Luke also records the speech of mockers in Luke 23:35-39.

3. First Person Plural (verses 3-5). Speaker: either 1) the same speaker as in number one above, or 2) a choral group of speakers. Addressee: if 1), the same speaker, then the addressee is God. If 2) a choral group, then the addressee is the first person singular speaker of verses 1-2.

My viewing this block as possibly being spoken by a chorus is to my knowledge original. Therefore, I cannot point to confirmation from another. I would prefer being able to cite someone else who reads the psalm this way.

  • Within the setting of a readers’ theater type of dramatic performance (See Psalms 9 and 10: A Readers Theater), a group of speakers functioning as a chorus is entirely logical, reasonable, and possible.
  • Other psalms containing clear-cut examples of a chorus of speakers representing the people of God are the following: 20, 46, 48, 95, 100, 118, and 132.
  • The block of speech found in verses 3-5 is set off by contrastive conjunctions.
    • Most English versions begin verse 3 with either of the English words, “but” or “yet.”
    • The contrastive conjunction is present in both Hebrew and Greek versions.
    • The block ends with verse 5, and to indicate this, verse 6 presents another contrastive conjunction, which appears as “but” in English.
  • The sense of this block contrasts in content from the prior two verses and the following protestation by the original first person singular speaker.

Here is a paraphrase of verses 1-8 interpreted as a Readers Theater dialogue. The text utilizes the New King James version.

Superscript: To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Deer of the Dawn.” A Psalm of David.

The Christ addressing God (verses 1-2): My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.

Chorus of Faithful Followers addressing the Christ (verses 3-5): But You are holy1, Enthroned in the praises of Israel! Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; They trusted in You, and were not ashamed. [1 See footnote below describing Christ as the Holy One of God]

The Christ responding to the chorus’ objection (verses 6-7): But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,

Mockers (verse 8): “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”

The Christ addressing God (verses 9-10, etc.): But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God…

Casting this portion of Psalm 22 into a Readers Theater dialogue adds depth and richness to an already deep, rich psalm. The dialogue serves to emphasize the prophetic nature of the psalm. Today’s readers must always bear in mind that when Psalm 22 was first “performed,” Messiah was still centuries in the future. His name had not yet been spoken. Worshipers of God were for the first time learning that there was indeed a Son, a King, a Chosen One of the Lord Jehovah, appointed by him and destined by him for his people to worship. This was all new. Much of the psalms serve as an announcement and description of what the life of the future Christ would be like.

As the dialogue above opens, the reader hears the first speaker wailing out to God in sorrow for his dreadful suffering. Then the chorus, who have been watching and listening, object with loud surprise and dismay, “But how can this be? You are so-and-so.” Clearly, the prophet behind these biblical words has given the chorus the role of seeing and knowing the identity of the suffering one, “This is none other than our God himself!” “How can you be suffering? You are our God, whom we have known and trusted for generations! You had the power to deliver us. How can you now say that you are forsaken of God?”

The first speaker turns toward the chorus and replies with an objection of his own, “But it is not as you say. I am a worm and not even a man. I am a reproach of men, and despised by the people. Look! Here’s proof. All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head. This is what they are saying about me. Listen.”

Then, as though they were also present on stage, the mockers repeat their mocking, “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”

At this point the first person speaker turns away from the chorus, having answered their objection, and turns toward God, whom he had been addressing at the beginning. He begins, “But you are he who…” It is as though he is continuing his thought from verses 1 and 2 while interweaving those sentiments with what his mockers have just spoken. “This is what the mockers are saying about me, but you, my God, are not like them. You are not one of them. You appear to be abandoning me, but why? You are he who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God…What a long history we have together. Why are you forsaking me now?

Evaluation of Above

There is nothing in the text that could possibly prove that the readers theater interpretation is correct. Neither can it be proved that this interpretation is not possible and is incorrect. Further, there is much in the text, in the psalms as a whole, and in the New Testament that could bear witness to a dialogical–readers theater–interpretation.

From a literary standpoint, the readers theater interpretation makes as much sense as the perception of a single speaker throughout, because of the contrastive clauses introducing the sections. When read out loud straight through, there’s definitely a sense of argument in the words themselves. Either the speaker is arguing with God, arguing with himself, or both. The argument concerns the topic of why God has abandoned the speaker.

If there is only one speaker throughout, then verses 3-5 could fit nicely with the possibility that the speaker is arguing with God. He might be saying, “Why are you abandoning me now? In the past you did such and such for our people. Your abandoning me now is out of character with your past actions.”

Against this interpretation lies the question of why the first person singular speaker suddenly chose to identify himself with the group of believers whom God delivered over the centuries? And once having done so, why would he suddenly switch back to singular to see himself as not even qualifying to be in that group of believers? He states that he is a worm, and not a man. He adds proof that he has many detractors who mock him. Then suddenly, he argues from the other side that God has treated him well in the past. It is God who took him out of his mother’s womb and so forth.

If there is one speaker throughout, then the reader must conclude that he is in a great state of mental agitation and doubt. He flips back and forth between statements of faith in God and statements of self aversion. From what I know of God and Scripture, it makes more sense to me to hear more than one speaker in this section. The first person singular sufferer is talking to both God and the chorus of witnesses who interrupt his prayer to address him directly in disbelief of the situation. Given that the psalm is a prophecy announcing a future occurrence, I find no harm in the readers theater viewpoint. It accurately portrays the truth of the shocking nature of the Christian cross narrative, that the Almighty God Yahweh, who shepherded his people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the promised land, would be the same person who speaks the words of Psalm 22. Such a discord is all but inconceivable. A chorus of God’s people would certainly be shocked at the revelation that their protector and deliverer was now in dire straits, abandoned by Almighty God. And yet, vindication comes in the end.

The Sequel

The plaintive sufferer speaks through verse 21. The descriptions in verses 12-18 closely match the occurrences recorded in the gospel accounts of the scene at the cross of Christ: the Roman soldiers surrounding Jesus (Psalm 22:12), the religious authorities speaking slanderous lies (verse 13), the physical effects of crucifixion (verses 14-15), the enemies surrounding the cross mentioned again (verse 16a), the nail pierced hands and feet (verse 16b), the effects on the body of a hard life of constant exercising, fasting, and hunger, the skin and bones displayed by hanging naked on a cross (verse 17a), the public nature of the crucifixion revealed in the stares and gloating of people (verse 17b), and the soldiers dividing Jesus’ garments by lot at the foot of the cross (verse 18). Verses 19-21a record a direct request for deliverance, “But You, O LORD, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog. Save Me from the lion’s mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen! (NKJ)

Final Block

The prayer for deliverance recorded in verses 19-21a transitions abruptly in verse 21b, “You have answered me.” The NET Bible places an exclamation point here.  Verse 22 announces praise and testimony to be given by the former sufferer to his brothers and in the middle of the congregation. Verses 23-31 form a final prophetic block that concludes this magnificent psalm.

While it is clear that the agonizing sufferer spoke the bulk of verses 1-21a (minus verses 3-5, which could correspond to a chorus, and the reported speech of mockers in verse 8), the announcement of deliverance in 21b, and the intention to praise God in verse 22 (1st person singular), it is not clear who speaks the final section from verses 23-31. Some might conclude that the sufferer of the early part of the psalm sings a praise solo to God at the end.  Others hear a cantata, because the ending verses have a mixture of voices that alternate both speakers and addressees. It is not simple to decipher who is speaking to whom and about whom in verses 23-31.

How do we sort these verses? Most commentators find a sharp contrast between the blocks of verses 1-21 and 22-31, which they explain in various ways, none of which can be proven definitively. (See, for example, Craig C. Broyles, 115, 120-122 and Charles Spurgeon, 324.) Verse 21a definitely attaches to the prior verses. Here the sufferer is directly addressing God as he continues to ask for deliverance. Verse 21b, the announcement of answered prayer, is also spoken in first person singular by the sufferer to God. Following this, because of grammatical considerations alone, verse 22 would appear to be the same speaker. Verses 21b and 22 comprise a clear transition between the first portion of the psalm, the passion portion, and the final portion of the psalm, the praise portion.

The remaining verses of the praise portion prove difficult to determine who is speaking. The difficulty stems from the changing grammatical character of the speaker(s) and addressees. On the one hand, the sufferer of the first portion of the psalm might be seen as a sole speaker throughout. In this scenario, the speaker performs before the congregation the vow of praise he gave to God in verse 22. Difficulties for the reader arise, however, as the sufferer alternates between addressing God directly as “you” and referring to him in third person singular as “him,” “the LORD,” and the Lord. He may also refer to himself in third person as “him” in verse 24 and “he” in the phrase “when he cried to him,” (verse 24). While the concept of praising God clearly rings through the entire section, it proves difficult for the reader to follow the speaker’s line of thought exactly. The prior section from verses 9 through 21 did not present these difficulties.

An alternate method of reading the final section would be a readers theater format. This possibility arises due to the heavy Christology of the first section spoken by the sufferer. Readers steeped in remembrances of the gospel accounts of Christ’s passion called forth by verses 1-21, most likely will find in the final sections remembrances of Christ’s sequential role as the ascended, eternal King, as presented in the remaining portions of the New Testament. The following is a suggestion only; it cannot be proven, yet in keeping with the Christology of the first portion, it can help elucidate the prophetic nature of the final portion.

Christ addressing God (verse 22): I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

Christ addressing his brothers in the midst of the congregation after his his suffering has ended and just as he announced in the prior verse (verse 23): “You who fear the LORD (Yahweh), praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!”

Chorus of the Congregation speaking in agreement (verse 24): For he [Yahweh of vs 23]  has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted [the sufferer of the first portion of the psalm], and he [Yahweh] has not hidden his [Yahweh’s] face from him [the afflicted sufferer], but has heard, when he [the sufferer] cried to him [Yahweh].

Christ addressing God (verse 25a): From you comes my praise in the great congregation; [a reality unfolding in the choral reading of this very psalm]

Christ addressing himself or the listeners/audience (verses 25b): my vows I will perform before those who fear him.

Christ addressing the congregation or the audience (verse 26a and b): The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him [Yahweh] shall praise the LORD [Yahweh]!

Or, chorus of the congregation addressing the audience (verse 26a and b): The afflicted [the former sufferer, whom the congregation recognizes as the Christ] shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him [the same former sufferer] shall praise the LORD [Yahweh God]!

Christ addressing the congregation (verse 26c): May your hearts live forever!

Chorus of the Congregation offering the praise announced in verse 26b (verse 27a): All the ends of the earth shall remember [the suffering and exaltation of the Christ] and turn to the LORD [Yahweh, or the exalted Christ],

Chorus of the Congregation addressing Christ (verse 27b): and all the families of the nations shall worship before you [the exalted Christ].

Chorus of the Congregation prophesying about the Christ, whom they identify with Yahweh (verses 28-31): For kingship belongs to the LORD [the Christ, the sufferer of the prior portion whom they recognized as their God in verses 3-5], and he rules over the nations [gentiles, a new addition]. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him [Christ] shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him [Christ]; it shall be told of the Lord [Adonay] to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness [the Christ’s] to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.

The strength of viewing Psalm 22 in the above fashion is that it binds together the psalm as a whole, unifying the two perhaps disparate sections. The tension of the conflict between the protector/deliverer God of verses 3-5 with the sufferer of verses 1-2 and 6-21 is resolved in the recognition that his story turned out good in the end. God delivered him from his affliction.

Another strength of the readers theater style of interpretation is that the promise of praise in verse 22, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:” (ESV) is fulfilled and acted out even in the psalm itself.

More than that, in the context of the Christ story, the final four verses speak words that are true of both God and his Christ. Their identities seem melded. In the end, Yahweh the Christ would be King forever, including over the nations. All mortals would bow and worship before him (See Philippians 2:10 and Romans 14:11).

Summary

There is no doubt that some psalms contain speech. For example, in Psalm 2, God speaks directly and is labeled as speaking.

Psalm 2:4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
(ESV)

Other psalms that perhaps contain speech but bear no labels, present difficulties of interpretation. By the addition of presumed labels, such as those for a readers theater to be presented before a live audience, some of these difficulties might disappear.

The organizers of a live reading in Old Testament times, possibly priests, would perhaps indicate to their audiences who was speaking which lines. They may have offered visual or vocal clues lost in translation. Theater audiences today have no difficulty recognizing who is speaking which lines, because they both see and hear the speakers. If the same audiences, however, were to merely read a script without the parts assigned and that bore neither quotation marks nor paragraph breaks, they most likely would encounter frequent confusion as to who was speaking what, especially if a list of characters was also missing2.

Final Thought

One of my passions in presenting Psalms is to communicate the high sense of life and drama present in them. The psalms are not dry pieces of ancient religious language. They are life giving communications from Almighty God, who knows our form and wishes to tell us that he is intimately involved in our lives. Within Psalms, a tuned in reader can find the complete gospel of Jesus Christ: his preexistence with God and as God, his incarnation, his passion, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension, his Lordship as King over all, and his future role as final judge3. God sent Jesus as Redeemer of the entire human race, because God loves us. God incarnated himself through his Son. Jesus understands us experientially from the inside out. God does not reject us, but he provides a way back to himself. In the person of the suffering and then exalted psalmist, God shows us that way.

_______________

1 See the following for references to Jesus Christ as “the Holy One.”

  • 1 John 2:20 “Holy One” https://bible.org/seriespage/9-exegetical-commentary-1-john-218-27.  W. Hall Harris III refers to Jesus as the Holy One.
  • Mark 1:24 by unclean Spirit; also Luke 4:34
  • John 6:69 by Peter to Jesus, “You are the Holy One of God.”
  • Acts 2:27 by Peter quoting Psalm 16:10
  • Acts 13:35 by Paul quoting Psalm 16:10
  • 1 Peter 1:15 “the Holy One who called you,” is most likely God. Bob Utley, Bob Utley, https://bible.org/seriespage/i-peter-11-23.

2 An excellent book that explores the intricacies of speech and dialogue in Psalms and other portions of scripture is The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation: The Center of Paul’s Method of Scriptural Interpretation by Matthew W. Bates. (See Bibliography.)

3 See Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King. (Bibliography.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Take on Current Events and Daily News: Psalm 15

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How does God feel about what we read in our daily news? Read Psalm 15 here to find out.

ESV Psalm 15:1 A Psalm of David. O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? 2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; 3 who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; 4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; 5 who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.

God will not be mocked, and his Word will not be trumped. In crystal clear, plain language God proclaims what he expects from people. God is Creator, the Great Benefactor, the Savior, and Judge.

God is good. Psalm 15 describes what goodness is in God’s eyes. He sees everything. Nothing escapes his notice.

The question is: Does God expect us to behave politically the same way he expects us to behave toward our families and our friends? Psalm 15 makes no distinction. And Jesus clarified his Father’s word even further.

ESV Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Within Psalms, God fully declares his expectations of us.

Intellectual Assent Versus Desire

 

 

 

I know a little girl who loves the story of the baby born under a star in a stable. The young mother had ridden a donkey a long way with her husband so the infant could be laid on straw shared by cattle and sheep. The visitors came–wise men, kings, and shepherds. “I love this story so much!” the little girl responds.

Then along comes thought, the thinking brain. “I know God lives in our hearts. But does he live out there?” gesturing with a wide arm to the outside world. “How do we know?” She asks these questions in her barely five year old head, because her dear gramma says God created and her even dearer papa says there is no God.

Little girl, I just want to say to you, “It’s not about your gramma or your papa. It’s about you. Follow your heart.”

Your heart is the head and your head is the tail. Don’t let the tail wag the dog. If you want to believe in God, then believe. God in his kindness will accept your desire, even if you lack reason for it. As years pass, over time, he may or may not answer the questions of your head. If God had wanted the blessing of belief to come through the head, he would have made it so. As it is, he chose faith. Turn your heart toward God, and your head will follow.

 

 

Waiting Out the Storm: Psalm 130

Photo by Jian Xhin on Unsplash

 

The prayers have been prayed. The battle has been fought. In Psalm 130, the psalmist finds himself alone in a deep, deep place. If we see Christ praying this psalm, we would say that his human body and soul have died, and he lies buried in death. That’s about as deep as a human being can ever go. 

What does the divine Son do, united as he is with his humanity? He does what he always does. He turns to the Lord, gives voice to his people-ness, and cries out to him, just as he always did in life.

Psalm 130:1 A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! (ESV)

The Bible teaches that Christ died for our sins. In the next verses the psalmist/Christ reminds God of the reason for his whole being on earth, that God would forgive.

3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (ESV)

Now everything that can possibly be done has been done. What does this person the psalmist represents do now? He waits. From the deepest deep of the depths, having been removed from all possibility of doing more, the psalmist waits.

5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. (ESV)

Then he encourages his countrymen, his friends, those in fellowship with him, to do the same: to wait in steadfast hope on the Lord. Because his faith in God tells him that redemption is on its way.

O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. (ESV)

Waiting can be a most difficult time. Our faith is tested while we wait. Do we wait in hope of deliverance, as the psalmist did? (See his deliverance in Psalm 18.) Do we wait in peace and even joy, as Paul and Silas did while chained in the depths of a foreign dungeon? (Acts 16:16-40)

Christ was rewarded with resurrection. Paul and Silas were rewarded with freedom and vindication. When we hide ourselves in Christ, we also receive multitudes of “small” resurrections. These small resurrections from the heart wrenching trials of life point to one great, enormous resurrection from death and the grave itself. What a day that will be, a day worth waiting for.

 

A Quibble with NET Word Choice in Psalm 33:6

I take issue with NET’s translation of Psalm 33:6. I would use the majority translation “word” rather than the minority translation “LORD’S decree,” because the context does not support NET’s paraphrase over the literal text of the original Hebrew and Greek.

ESV Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. 

NET Psalm 33:6 By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made; by a mere word from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created. (Psa 33:6 NET)

The following translations use “word” in verse 6: ESV, NIV 1984, NIB (British NIV, 1984), NAS, BBE (Bible in Basic English), LXE (Brenton’s Septuagint English Translation), NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint, Pietersma, 2009), KJV, NKJV, NRS (New Revised Standard Version, 1989), and the NIV, 2011. “Word” literally translates both the Greek of the Septuagint and the Hebrew, as the NET points out in its notes. However, the NET model, 2006,  and the NIRV (New International Reader’s Version, 1998) have taken the liberty to interpret the literal “word” of the two original languages and to place the interpretation into the text. NET then puts the literal translation into the notes. Can these two be right and everyone else wrong?

The NET writes for Psalm 33:6, “By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made; by a mere word [breath, or spirit] from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created.” The NIRV writes, “The heavens were made when the LORD commanded it to happen. All of the stars were created by the breath of his mouth.”

The interpretation NET and NIRV have given (although the 2011 NIV returns to “word”) is a narrow slice of the semantic range of possible meanings of the literal “word” of the original. In the case of the NET, I strongly suspect that this is an editorial decision based upon the philosophy (hermeneutics) of Old Testament interpretation the editors have chosen. NET is fond of placing the literal in the margin and their particular interpretation in the text itself.

Why does this matter? 1) These two versions are changing the literal translation of God’s word. 2) They are interpreting for God the meaning of the text, rather than allowing the reader to do so under the guidance of God.

One of the readers of Psalms was John the Apostle. In John 1:1-5, he writes,

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (NIV, 2011)

The author of Hebrews writes,

2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

Why rob the reader the pleasure of seeing the Word, the Son, in Psalm 33:6 by changing the literal translation “word” to “LORD’s decree“? The semantic domain of “word” includes the concept of “decree,” while “decree” erases the possibility of the Personhood of God’s Word.

In support of keeping the original rather than NET’s interpretation, the text of Psalm 148:5-6 is interesting in its contextual similarity to Psalm 33:6.

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
6 He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away. (NIB, NIV 1984)

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he gave the command and they came into existence.
6 He established them so they would endure; he issued a decree that will not be revoked. (NET)

In these verses, “them” means everything named in verses 2-4: angels, heavenly hosts, sun, moon, shining stars, highest heavens, and waters above the skies, i.e., creation, apart from the earth. These verses contain the translations “commanded…created,” “set them in place,” and “gave a decree.” Interestingly, NET notes does not mention any of the three verbal phrases.

In comparison with Psalm 33:6, the immediate creation context is identical. “6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” Yet even though the context is identical, the original Greek and Hebrew words referring to the act of creation are different. Psalm 33, as noted above, uses the Hebrew and Greek original for “word,” “logos” (see Strong’s H1697 and G3056), whereas Psalm 148:5-6 uses different words more directly related to “command” (see Strong’s H6680, H8765, G1781, G2476, and G4367).

“Logos,” which is “word” in the New Testament, carries great weight, and one cannot help but wonder why the NET chose to minimize its potential importance in Psalm 33:6, given that NET’s claimed translation “the LORD’s decree” has other specific Hebrew and Greek words that God could have chosen, as for example, those he did choose in Psalm 148:5-6 in an identical context. Are we to think that God pays less attention to details than NET? In Psalm 33:6, if God intentionally chose Hebrew “dabar” and Greek “logos,” both meaning “word,” then “word” it is.

For Lovers of God: Psalm 33

Psalm 33 1) beautifully describes God’s nature as reflected in his many activities and 2) encourages people everywhere to worship him loudly and clearly with joyful praise and celebration.

myjoyonline.com

Psalm 33 opens with a clarion call to praise that pictures a scene of genuine celebration:

1 Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. (Psalm 33:1-3 NIV, 1984)

Verses 4 and 5 give four reasons to celebrate God:

  1. For the word of the LORD is right and true; (vs 4)
  2. He is faithful in all he does (vs 4)
  3. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; (vs 5)
  4. the earth is full of his unfailing love. (vs 5)

The body of the psalm develops these four points:

1. For the word of the LORD is right and true (vs 4)

God created by his Word (see footnote 1, technical).

6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; {Or sea as into a heap} he puts the deep into storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

2. He is faithful in all he does (vs 4)

10 The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. 

As we consider today’s shifting political market and humankind’s long world history, we see that various nations and people groups rise and fall. “But the plans of the LORD stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” God is faithful, unchanging, ever true, and powerful.

3. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; (vs 5)

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling-place he watches all who live on earth–
15 he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.
16 No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.

The LORD blesses those who follow his ways (vs 12). His ways are righteousness and justice. God did not simply create and then disappear into the vastness of an infinite space (deus ex machina). Verses 13-15 state that God looks and sees everyone everywhere. He judges by his own standards of uprightness, of righteousness and justice. Verses 16-17 state that history is full of examples in which leaders with great armies, great strength, and the best of equipment find all those insufficient to save. It is God who saves.

4. the earth is full of his unfailing love. (vs 5)

18 But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

The LORD knows his own. He watches over them carefully, minutely, and always. The text describes God’s people as those who love him, respect, trust in, and obey him (text: fear him) as well as place their hope in God’s loyal and faithful actions and attitude of love towards them. We might call these actions faith. God delivers from death those who place their faith in him, who give their loyalty to him. He also keeps them alive in famine.

What should our response be?

Verses 20 and 21 recap the introductory verses 1-3.

20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

Verse 22 concludes with a prayer that 1) asks the faithful God to continue blessing his people just as he has done in the past, and 2) expresses the continued loyalty of the people.

22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.

Application:

Explanations of a psalm are never as good as the psalm itself, just as reading a synopsis of a book or movie is never as good as experiencing. When someone tells about a great time they had, the description comes nowhere near the great time itself. Explanations like the above serve at best as a roadmap to lead the way or guideposts to point out interesting sights. Whereas experiencing a psalm and being swept up into its mood or passion can happen in just a few short minutes, digesting an explanation can dampen the joy of movement. So read the psalm when you are fresh and celebrate God’s ever present goodness.

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I. Technical Note: The following translations use “word” in verse 6: ESV, NIV 1984, NIB (British NIV, 1984), NAS, BBE (Bible in Basic English), LXE (Brenton’s Septuagint English Translation), NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint, Pietersma, 2009), KJV, NKJV, NRS (New Revised Standard Version, 1989), and the NIV, 2011. “Word” literally translates both the Greek of the Septuagint and the Hebrew, as the NET points out in its notes. However, the NET model, 2006,  and the NIRV (New International Reader’s Version, 1998) have taken the liberty to interpret the literal “word” of the two original languages and to place the interpretation into the text. NET then puts the literal translation into the notes. Can these two be right and everyone else wrong?

The NET writes for Psalm 33:6, “By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made; by a mere word [breath, or spirit] from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created.” The NIRV writes, “The heavens were made when the LORD commanded it to happen. All of the stars were created by the breath of his mouth.”

The interpretation these two more modern versions have given (although the later NIV went back to using “word”) is a narrow slice of the semantic range of possible meanings of the literal “word” of the original. In the case of the NET, I strongly suspect that this is an editorial decision based upon the philosophy (hermeneutics) of Old Testament interpretation the editors have chosen. NET is fond of placing the literal in the margin and their particular interpretation in the text itself.

Why does this matter? 1) these two versions are changing the literal translation of God’s word. 2) They are interpreting for God the meaning of the text, rather than allowing the readers to do so under the guidance of God.

One of the readers of Psalms was John the Apostle. In John 1:1-5, he writes,

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (NIV, 2011)

The author of Hebrews writes,

2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

Why rob the reader the pleasure of seeing the Word, the Son, in Psalm 33:6 by changing the literal translation “word” to “LORD’s decree“? The semantic domain of “word” includes the concept of “decree,” while “decree” erases the possibility of the Personhood of God’s Word.

The text of Psalm 148:5-6 is interesting in its contextual similarity to Psalm 33:6.

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
6 He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away. (NIB, NIV 1984)

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he gave the command and they came into existence.
6 He established them so they would endure; he issued a decree that will not be revoked. (NET)

In these verses, “them” means everything named in verses 2-4: angels, heavenly hosts, sun, moon, shining stars, highest heavens, and waters above the skies, i.e., creation, apart from the earth. These verses contain the translations “commanded…created,” “set them in place,” and “gave a decree.” Interestingly, NET notes does not mention any of the three verbal phrases.

In comparison with Psalm 33:6, the immediate creation context is identical. “6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” Yet even though the context is identical, the original Greek and Hebrew words referring to the act of creation are different. Psalm 33, as noted above, uses the Hebrew and Greek original for “word,” “logos” (see Strong’s H1697 and G3056), whereas Psalm 148:5-6 uses different words more directly related to “command” (see Strong’s H6680, H8765, G1781, G2476, and G4367).

“Logos,” which is “word” in the New Testament, carries great weight, and one cannot help but wonder why the NET chose to minimize its potential importance in Psalm 33:6, given that NET’s claimed translation “the LORD’s decree” has other specific Hebrew and Greek words that God could have chosen, as for example, those he did choose in Psalm 148:5-6 in an identical context. Are we to think that God pays less attention to details than NET? In Psalm 33:6, if God intentionally chose Hebrew “dabar” and Greek “logos,” both meaning “word,” then “word” it is.

 

 

My New Book

I’ve published my first book, Beauty: Find One Beautiful Thing Every Day and Take a Photo of It. I apologize that it’s not about Psalms! The book contains 31 photos of beauty which I found in the commonplace things around me and 31 simple poems to accompany the photos. The book is available on Amazon at Beauty: Find One Beautiful Thing Every Day and Take a Photo of It.

I invite you to check it out!

 

Psalms 9 and 10: A Readers Theater

Prosopoeia: Dramatic Character Masks for a Readers Theater

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.”

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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.

Readers Theater

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. I have joined them together as two parts of one psalm, as they are presented in the Septuagint, which is my bible of choice for the reading and perception of God’s intent in Psalms.

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.

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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!

Link to next post in this series

Link to prior post in this series 

Link to Contents for this series

  

Psalms 9 and 10: Justice

God speaks the last word: his word is final, just, and determinative.

What does a “wicked” person look like?

Psalms 9 and 10 stand near the beginning of the Psalter, where themes mentioned in brief words of introduction are still being expanded. While judgment has been introduced in Psalm 1:5-6, Psalm 2:5 and 9, Psalm 5:5-10, Psalm 6:10, and Psalm 7:6, 9, and 11-16, there has been nothing like the detailed portrait of the “wicked” person as described here in Psalm 10:2-11. 

The wicked person is someone who…

  • arrogantly and hotly pursues the poor
  • is greedy for gain
  • curses and spurns the Lord
  • wears pride on his face as he denies the existence of God
  • is prosperous at all times
  • is full of confidence in his belief that he shall never meet adversity
  • curses and lies and oppresses
  • injures with his words
  • sets up ambushes and from hiding murders the innocent and stealthily watches for the helpless
  • like a lion lurking in ambush, seizes the poor and pulls them into his net
  • crushes the helpless until they sink down and fall by his might
  • says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it”

We can see from the above that God’s main concern is relationship: How do people treat God? and how do people treat each other?

Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (NET)

This is primary to the God who is L-O-V-E. Psalm 10 spells out behaviors and heart attitudes of the “wicked” who are and do the exact opposite of what God in his love is and does. Only a person in complete denial would ever say that she has never met a wicked person. Our modern society abounds with such. God’s love sent his one and only Son, the co-creator, to hang naked as a human being on a cross and to painfully and willingly suffer and die there in order to forgive wicked people who want to return to him and be forgiven. God refuses no one; he accepts all; but he won’t compel anyone against their will.

God’s Word is Final, Just, and Determinative

Psalms 9 and 10 demonstrate how God gets the last word, that his word is just and favorable to the afflicted, the poor and needy, and that his word carries the power to execute what he decrees. Psalm 9 relates the final outcome of God’s justice in making the world right again, while Psalm 10 provides a close-up of what evil looks like in the present tense to those who plead for God’s merciful help for their defense and deliverance from those who are evil.

Psalm 9 opens with the praises and thanksgiving of a righteous suppliant *(See note), who recounts how God helped him in his great hour of need (verses 1 and 2). God’s help came in universal form, broad in scope and endless in time (verses 5 and 6).

Psalm 9:5 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. (ESV)

Verses 7-10 speak in general terms of the Lord’s eternal, sovereign reign, his goodness to the oppressed, their trust in him, and the Lord’s just and righteous judgments over all. Verse 11 is a call to praise, and verse12 proclaims how the Lord favors the afflicted over the persecutor. Verses 13-14 recount the prayer of a poor and needy suppliant, while verses 15-18 establish the final, favorable decree of God for the poor and needy. The wicked perish. Verses 19-20, functioning as a summary, plead with God to perform what the rest of the psalm states that in fact he will do.

Psalm 10, as summarized above, gives a detailed portrait of the wicked person (verses 2-11). The description of the wicked is sandwiched between a plea for God to act on behalf of the needy and helpless (verse 1 and verses 12-15). The psalm closes with a strong statement of faith in God, that he will bring final, eternal justice to earth (verses 17-18).

The Necessity of Faith

Psalm 9 recounts the thanksgiving of a suppliant whose prayers God answered by judging the world in righteousness, defeating the enemy who stood against both God and against the poor and needy whom God loves. It gives the larger picture, a view from the endpoint of eternity. Psalm 10 on the other hand, provides a portrait from ground level, what the world looks like now.

Psalm 10:1 Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you pay no attention during times of trouble? (NET)

Psalm 10 ends with a plea and a statement of faith. Clearly, the world as a whole leans more toward unrighteousness than righteousness. One only needs to pay attention to the media for a short while to learn of all the millions and billions of people who suffer from one form of exploitation or another. What good are these ancient prayers prayed so many millennia ago, since the wicked still oppress the weak ones?

God has never promised anything except what can be accessed by faith.

Hebrews 11:6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (NET)

Psalm 9 speaks the promise, while Psalm 10 speaks to faith. Faith lives in an already-not-yet world. God’s promises have already been given and have been experienced in part by all believers, but many of his promises will not be fulfilled until most of us have already died. Hebrews 11 is an entire chapter that recounts the faith of Old Testament saints who died before receiving the fulfillment of God’s promises. The statement of God’s promises in Psalms 9 and 10 is very strong, yet the realization of them must await the eternity that follows the final judgement, that is, the realization of God’s full promise must await the end of the world as we know it. We will most likely die before we see the eternal promise fulfilled. Our faith, however, experiences these promises as fulfilled now.

Faith is torture for the flesh. Our flesh does not like to exercise faith, since our flesh craves satisfaction now. Faith must deny the flesh and command it constantly to wait. A biblical illustration of flesh versus faith is the narrative of Esau and Jacob. Esau caved in to his flesh and sold his birthright for a single bowl of stew, because his body was hungry (Genesis 25:29-34). Jacob, on the other hand, waited and worked fourteen years to marry the love of his life (Genesis 29:20-30), then labored again to return to his native homeland (Genesis 30:25-43). Jacob controlled his flesh and seeded by faith his eternal future, while Esau allowed his flesh to control him and seeded the present. Esau cared nothing for God, while Jacob encountered God and experienced a life changing transaction with him (Genesis 28:10-22). Jacob responded to God by wanting him and by receiving what God wanted to give. The point is that practicing faith is so hard as to be impossible for those who have not got it (Esau). Faith is a gift (Jacob).

Except for the few who have intellectual interest, the psalms must appear impermeable and repetitive, like watching paint dry, if they are read apart from the eyes of faith.

How Does Anyone Get Faith?

Faith is a gift from God.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV)

Gifts come in two ways: unexpectedly or by asking.

  1. God often chooses people for specific tasks and provides an overwhelming argument as to why the person should believe him. The apostle Paul’s conversion is a good example of this method of receiving faith (Acts 9:1-22).
  2. A common way to receive the gift of faith is to ask God for it. The conversion of the Philippian jailer provides a good example of receiving faith by asking (Acts 16:22-34).

Having faith is not like having air. God always rewards faith by providing tangible evidences, such as those the psalmist recounts in Psalm 9:3-6. Consider the description of faith given by three translations.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. (NET)

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)

Hebrews 11:1 Faith assures one of the substance of hope, providing verification of invisible realities. (MacDonald Idiomatic Translation, MIT)

God helps our faith, which is intangible, by giving us tangible evidences. In Psalm 9, the speaker saw his enemies actually turning back, stumbling, and perishing. Jesus Christ saw God perform astounding miracles through him, and he experienced his own resurrection. For ourselves, God helps our faith by answering prayer in real time–by healing the sick, by providing for us financially, by bringing to nothing the threats of our enemies, by any number and kind of miracles large and small, and by his Word.

Faith is a spiritual “something” within believers that God encourages and grows by his own Spirit indwelling the believer and by his Word. Faith is a transaction between the person and God. As a person puts her trust in God, God in turn entrusts himself to her. And just as some children need more adult encouragement than others, so God gives tangible evidences that encourage faith to some more than to others. But it is the trust in God and the commitment of our needs to him that pleases God. He is a good God who provides good things for his children.

Listen to Jesus–

John 4:16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said,`I have no husband,’
18 “for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”
19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.
20 “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.
22 “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.
23 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.
24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (NKJ)

So once again, how does anyone get faith? Answer: by asking God for it. Here are just a few examples of how you might word your request.

Lord (notice the humble acknowledgement of God as “boss” and the willingness to approach him on his own terms), I don’t have faith (notice the humble confession of need). Please (notice the humble acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and willingness as the weaker party to receive from his hand) give me some (notice the faith inherent in the desire to have faith and in the spoken request for it.)

If you get this far in your petition to God, you can be one hundred percent (100%) sure that he will answer you affirmatively. God is good! He loves you!

Lord, I don’t believe in you. Please help me to believe (notice your desire to believe–that is sufficient).

Dear God, I don’t know if you even exist. But if you do, I want to learn more about you.

Once again, if you’ve gotten this far in your petitions in all sincerity and truth, God has chosen you because he wants you to believe in him. He himself has placed this prayer on your heart because he wants to give you the gift of faith to believe in him and in Jesus Christ whom he sent to open the way for you to return to God your Creator.

No step is too small. Even half a baby’s first baby step is enough, just so you step toward God your Father and not away. Try it! He will catch you in his loving arms.

__________

*Note: A righteous person, as defined by usage in Psalms, is someone who commits him(her)self fully to the Lord. She looks to the Lord for all her needs and tries to please him in all she thinks, says, and does. Her motives and heart are pure; she is 100% on the Lord’s team. Jesus Christ, as incarnated human being, is the ultimate Righteous Person in the Psalter.

Please tune in for the sequel to this post, which will present these same two psalms, Psalm 9 and Psalm 10, in a Readers Theater format. It is scheduled for Friday, May 25, 2018.

 

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