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Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 1 to Psalms 10

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleWith Job behind me, it's on to the second of the Wisdom books, Psalms. Psalms is also one of the longest books of the Bible - the longest in many English translations. It certainly has the most chapters, and I believe the most verses, as well (at least according to this page of King James Bible Statistics). However, the verses tend to be rather short, so by word count, a few other books are really close, particularly Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Genesis, and Isaiah. And this all assumes that Kings, Chronicles, and Samuel are broken up into two books a piece. By the older tradition, they would be the longest by KJV word count, in that order. For more discussion on book lengths in Hebrew, take a look at this page, The Gospel Coalition - What Is the Longest Book in the Bible?.

Given the overall length of Psalms, but the short nature of individual chapters, I may reconsider these reviews. For this first week, I'll stick to ten chapters, but once I see how things go, I may switch to 20 chapters a week to help get through this book faster. Otherwise, I'm looking at nearly 4 months on this one book.

Psalms is a collection of collections. To quote a line from Wikipedia, "The composition of the psalms spans at least five centuries, from Psalm 29, which is adapted from early Canaanite worship, to others which are clearly from the post-Exilic period." Obviously, there is no single author. And in fact, according to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), even the traditional attribution to David for many of the Psalms is almost certainly wrong.

Psalms, Chapter 1

Chapters 1 and 2 serve as a kind of introduction to the book. This chapter was rather short, saying in so many words that people who follow the Lord will be happy, while "The wicked are not so", and will be punished by God.

Psalms, Chapter 2

This chapter was a justification for the Davidic line, questioning who would be so foolish as to challenge the king chosen by God himself.

The NOAB noted that the Hebrew word for annointed used in verse 1, 'mashiah', "is always used in the Hebrew Bible of an actual ruler rather than of a future king".

I also noted a bit of juvenile humor - juvenile on my part, not in the Bible. Verse 11 says to "Serve the Lord with fear, / with trembling kiss his feet". There's a translation note that the original meaning of the portion translated as 'kiss his feet' is uncertain. But I'm reminded of how often feet were used as a euphemism for genitals in older books, and it gives this verse an entirely different meaning.

Psalms, Chapter 3

This was the first psalm that had a heading, "A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom". These headings are used for many of the psalms to explain their context. This chapter was also interspersed with the term, 'Selah'. According to the NOAB, the exact meaning of the term is unclear, but it was probably some sort of musical notation, perhaps indicating an interlude.

Otherwise, this psalm is exactly what you'd expect of someone asking God for help, with hints of the violence so prevalent in the old testament, "For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; / you break the teeth of the wicked."

Psalms, Chapter 4

This is another Psalm attributed to David. This time, there were instructions for the musical director to use strings to accompany this psalm. After beginning with thanksgiving to God, the psalm went on to criticize the people who questioned God, urging them to trust in him.

Psalms, Chapter 5

More praise of God and criticism of the wicked. Coming so freshly off of Job, I was struck by the passages indicated divine justice, since Job seemed to indicate that God didn't lower himself to worry about those things.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
   evil will not sojourn with you.
The boastful will not stand before your eyes;
   you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
   the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.

Psalms, Chapter 6

More requests to God for help. I was struck by one verse.

For in death there is no remembrance of you;
   in Sheol who can give you praise?

This is definitely counter to the Christian understanding of the afterlife. It's not heaven filled with souls praising God, but a drab & dismal underworld.

Psalms, Chapter 7

The heading for this chapter is "A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning Cush, a Benjaminite." The NOAB notes that this incident isn't mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, and so must come from a tradition separate from those books.

There was an allusion to the heavenly council, "Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you, / and over it take your seat on high."

Psalms, Chapter 8

More of the same. However, there were a few verses that caught my eye, including "Out of the mouths of babes and infants / you have founded a bulwark because of your foes." This seems to be the original source of Mathew 21:16 and the expression in modern day English.

I also noticed verse 4, "what are human beings that you are mindful of them, / mortals that you care for them?", thinking back to Job 7, where this verse was mocked.

This chapter also repeated a theme from Genesis that I find particularly troubling.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
   you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

It's passages like this that allow Christians to use the Bible as justification for all manner of abuse of animals and disregard for the environment (not all Christians, of course, but more that I'd care to acknowledge).

Psalms, Chapter 9

To give an idea of how short the various chapters are in Job, this is the longest of the chapters I read this week at just 20 verses.

Chapters 9 and 10 are part of the same poem, originally using an acrostic structure. This is where the first letter of each line follows some structure, in this case the Hebrew alphabet. However, due to scribal errors, the structure was degraded in the Bible.

Psalms, Chapter 10

Continuing on with the poem begun in the previous chapter, this chapter actually began with a hard question more in line with Job.

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
   Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"
In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor--
   let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.

But after spending several verses complaining about the wicked, the writer goes on to say that God really does help those in need, "But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, / that you may take it into your hands", and that he will punish the wicked, "Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers / seek out their wickedness until you find none."


Going from the book of Job to Psalms is a bit like going from Lou Reed to Taylor Swift. Whereas the book of Job was deep and thoughtful and a bit dark, Psalms so far is mostly just praise, praise, praise. It's almost all platitudes - God is great, God is powerful, the wicked are wicked, etc. I suspect these reviews are going to quickly become shortened to little more than phrases like, "more praise of God", "more requests for help", or "more criticisms of the wicked".

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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