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Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 111 to Psalms 120

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.

BibleThis week's entry covers Psalms 111 through 120. It's a bit of a milestone - Psalm 117 is the midway point of the Protestant Bible, going by chapter count. There are a few ways to determine the center of the Bible, and even a bit of controversy associated with it, so I posted a bonus entry earlier in the week all about it, Friday Bible Blogging - Center Verse of the Bible. Like I wrote at the end of that entry, since I plan to read the Apocrypha in addition to the content normally included in Protestant Bibles, I'm still not halfway through with this project, yet (that won't be until Isaiah).

Other than being the sort of midway point, other highlights this week include both the shortest and longest chapters of the Bible, and chapters with language that most Christians should recognize.

According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), some of these psalms get grouped together. Psalms 111-113 make up the Hallelujah psalms, and Psalms 113-118 make up the Egyptian Hallel Psalms (I guess 113 goes in both collections).

Psalms, Chapter 111

Psalm 111 was a typical psalm of thanksgiving. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) pointed out that it was an acrostic poem - one where the first letter of each line has to follow a specific pattern. Although the NOAB doesn't indicate it exactly, and I don't have access to nor the ability to read the original Hebrew, I'm assuming the pattern here was following the alphabet, since that's the pattern other acrostic psalms followed. The NOAB also notes that "Many scholars think that Pss 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal and Pss 115-118 after it."

Psalms, Chapter 112

Another fairly typical psalm, instructing people to behave morally, and that they'll be rewarded accordingly. And according to the NOAB, this is another acrostic poem.

Psalms, Chapter 113

Another psalm of praise.

Psalms, Chapter 114

Another psalm praising God, with references to Exodus and Jacob.

Psalms, Chapter 115

This is another typical psalm - part praise, part thanksgiving, part petition, and part instruction to the people.

Verses 3 and 4 offered a pretty stark contrast between Yahweh and other gods.

3 Our God is in the heavens;
   he does whatever he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
   the work of human hands.

The next few verses went on to describe other gods as merely idols, and not real gods. Of course, I'm pretty sure that the surrounding cultures didn't see their statues that way.

There was also a verse similar to ones I've mentioned before, showing that the psalmist's concept of the afterlife was very much different than the modern Christian concept.

The dead do not praise the Lord,
   nor do any that go down into silence.

Psalms, Chapter 116

This was a psalm of thanksgiving, where the psalmist was saved from vaguely described distress by the Lord.

One verse caught my eye for how similar it sounds to language I heard going to church as a kid.

I will lift up the cup of salvation
   and call on the name of the Lord...

Since this is the Old Testament, that's obviously not referring to the Last Supper. According to the NOAB, this was a drink offering that would have been poured out.

Psalms, Chapter 117

According to many sources, including the NOAB, this is the shortest chapter of the Bible at only 2 verses long. In fact, here it is in its entirety.

1 Praise the Lord, all you nations!
   Extol him, all you peoples!
For great is his steadfast love towards us,
   and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever.
Praise the Lord!

Psalms, Chapter 118

This was another psalm of thanksgiving. According to the NOAB, it might have been said by the king as a representative of the people. There was also quite a bit of language making it seem like it might have been part of a ceremony, processing through the gates of the Temple precincts.

This chapter had another verse that's very familiar to Christians, verse 22.

The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the chief cornerstone.

Psalms, Chapter 119

I've seen many sources that claim that this is the longest chapter of the Bible, including the NOAB. In my hard copy of the Bible, it started on page 871, and ran through page 876 - with small print and two columns per page. Just by comparison, most chapters would fit on a single page. Printing an online copy of the verse would take 11 pages. Granted, the psalms have a lot of white space with their poetic structure, but at 176 verses, it's still a long chapter.

It's basically a long petition, with the length coming from the poetic structure. Actually, I'll just quote the NOAB on this.

The psalm is an elaborate acrostic...: Each of the twenty-two stanzas begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each stanza has eight verses and (usually) eight synonyms of "law," more accurately "authoritative teaching": "law," "word," "promise(s)," "ordinances," "statues," "commandments," "decrees," and "precepts."

The NOAB also noted how this psalm was part of a transition in the religion "in the postexilic period". The language used to describe the Torah (and the exact meaning of Torah is unclear in this psalm) was the type of language that had previously been applied only to God (love, true, truth), showing how "the Torah is a type of stand-in for God, who is no longer regarded as imminent."

Psalms, Chapter 120

The superscription to this psalm marks it as the beginning of the collection known as the "Songs of Ascents". According to the NOAB, two possible sources of this name are the literary construction of the poems ("steplike parallelism"), or as "songs sung while going up to Jerusalem for pilgrimage". The collection runs through Psalm 134.

The psalm itself is a petition to God for deliverance from the people mistreating the psalmist.


The psalms this week weren't too bad, but I'm glad I only have three more weeks to go before starting Proverbs.

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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