Lecture 4 - Psalm 4 (part 2) & Psalm 23

Course: Book of Psalms

Lecture: Psalm 4 - Part 2

This is the 4th lecture in the online series of lectures on Psalms by Dr Bruce Waltke. Recommended Reading includes: The Psalms as Christian Lament, James Houston, Bruce Waltke; The Psalms as Christian Worship: An Historical Commentary, James Houston, Bruce Waltke

I. Review

We will soon finish Psalm 4. On page 30 of your introductory notes we started to look at the Exposition of the Psalm itself. Within that we covered the superscript by King David. This is written above the poem. That gave us the basic historical background we needed. The genre is a Psalm which is a song sung to the complement of music. It reveals inspiration and prophetic material with music. Now we don’t have the melody and within the text every word has an accent mark indicating musical notations. Some argued that these marks were hand signals telling the musician what to play. Again according to some, the music worked off the scale of E. I actually have a record of the music which I played one time having guest over to my house. The superscript also told us about the author and it tells of some incident within David’s life and his career relating back to the Book of Samuel. There was an address to God with introductory petitions and then we have the address to the Highborn Apostates, those who were turning to false gods because of the famine. They were those who were losing trust in God. We looked at the petitions and then finally the confidence and praise to God. These are the parts of the Psalm.

The address to God and introductory petitions were divided into two parts. It was a petition to gain an audience and find God’s favor. It is asking God permission to come into his court, present his case; hear me with grace and do me a favor, and give me a response in the presence of God. The request was an escape or relief from his distress. Within verses 2 and 3, we begin to understand that his leadership has lost faith in him and in God. He was addressing God and then all of a sudden he is addressing his apostates. This is literary fiction, using a poem to get across his truth. So he sifts from addressing God to addressing these apostates to restore confidence in him. Whether he actually did this or not, I am not sure as we are dealing with poetry filled with imagery. It is imaginative speech to get across his truth in using a psalm. So he is now addressing the Apostates and he makes an accusation against them; ‘how long will you turn my glory into shame?’ In addition, he says the first of seven admonitions to them. He tells them to know their king and God answers prayer. He continues trying to build up their confidence in telling them how he knew it was the king. This was through the word of the prophet, the word of God, the Spirit of God and the works of God.

II. The Three Pairs of Admonition

The first pair involved dreading the consequences of apostasy, saying, for it will bring the judgement of God. They are to tremble and not sin. We have the Hebrew word, ‘rigzu’, meaning to tremble or shake as in a trauma. So why are they shaking? It could be because they are angry. He is saying to be angry in this situation that you find yourselves. This is how it is translated in the Greek and this is how it is used by Paul in Ephesians 4. I think Paul knew the Psalms backwards and forwards. Paul uses the Greek translation in the same way that ministers use it from the Kings James version. But this isn’t necessarily what David meant, unless you are dealing with prophesy. To me, it doesn’t make much sense to tell these apostates to be angry. Angry at what, at their situation; I think more likely it means to tremble in fear at the consequences of Apostasy. Tremble and do not sin by forsaking the king and God, the eternal God and his elect king. If you are going after another god, understand what you are doing because you are going to have terrible consequences. You should search your hearts and be silent; this is from verse 4b. This is saying to let your conscience confirm your faith. The word ‘search’ in Akkadian, Ugaritic and Ethiopic can mean to see or to look into. The heart is conceptualized as that is part of the body that informs all your activities in the way you think and feel. When Abigail told Nabal how she had befriended David and had provided him with food; Nabal had a stroke. But the Hebrew said that his heart died because he was like stone. So he is telling them to let their conscience speak to them. They were to offer the sacrifices of the righteous in verse 5. When they prayed they would offer up a sacrifice. They were to approach God ‘I AM’ and offer him a sacrifice, not Baal. For today, the sacrifice of animal is gone but the prayer is still there, and so we offer the sacrifice of praise without the animal. Our praise is like a sacrifice of sweet saver into God’s presence.

III. The Petitions

This was for the favor of I Am in verse 6, ‘O that one would show us good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, I AM.’ Then you have the king’s prayer asking to fill his heart with joy when new grain and wine abound. The Psalm ends and he goes to bed to sleep in peace. He knows his God and he knows who he is and he is at peace, for ‘I AM’ causes me to dwell in security. We have the following references: Isaiah 26:3 ‘for the king trusts in the Lord, and through the unfailing love of the Most High he will not be shaken.’ This was true of Jesus for he was in every aspect, human, in order to identify with us. In Psalm 21:7, ‘the steadfast mind you will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in you.’ And then in Philippians 4:6-7, Paul says not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’

Hebrew Poetry and Psalm 23

I. Hebrew Poetry, its Restrictions and Characteristics

A. Hebrew Poetry

It is extremely important to understand what this is about. First, of course, we have to understand the language, and then we have to understand the author’s style of writing. Interestingly, half of the Old Testament is in poetry. We see that Job, Psalms and Proverbs are all in poetry. This is in contrast to narrative and prose like from Genesis to Kings and Chronicles. This tells me that God is ascetic and he likes poems. My experience is that most people don’t. So it is worth our while to understand what a poem is. Barbara Smith says that in contrast to prose, poetry is more restricted form of speech: a sustained rhythm in a continuously operating principle of organization. We are used to this sustained rhythm of having its own way of restriction. In Hebrew poetry there is no rhyme. They are inflected by masculine and feminine and we know that the meter is restricted in some way. There is no pattern, meter or rhyme in Hebrew Poetry.

B. Three Restrictions

There are three restrictions in Hebrew poetry; the first one call called parallelism. You say a line and then you say another line. It aims to give complex information in a unified way; one hears the message stereophonically. It is like hearing it with two speakers. So there is a repetition. This is all the way through the Psalms and this is true of all Semitic poetry. The second restriction is its terseness. Instead of being like prose in having a motion picture, you have a slide show, one picture after another. From Judges 4:19, it says, ‘and he [Sisera] said to her, please give me a little water to drink because I am thirsty. And she opened a milk skin and gave him some to drink and she covered him.’ We see that he was thirsty. She didn’t give him what he asked for. Instead of water, she gave him milk. The same thing occurs in Judges 5:25, ‘Water, he asked, milk she gave; in a princely bowl she offered curds.’ See the terseness in the way he asked: ‘water, he asked.’ It is terse and powerful; it is right to the point, being the nature of poetry. It has a heightened style. There are concrete images and all sorts of figures of speech. Israel’s religious hymns are lofty and ethical, imaginative and arresting, attractive and alluring; they combine punch with clarity. In sentiments one feels uncommon elevation and majesty; in imagery uncommon taste and diversity; in language uncommon beauty and energy.

Let’s look at Numbers 12 when Miriam and Aaron opposed Moses. He married a Cushite woman who was probably black and they didn’t like it. Moses was a very humble person. The Lord called all three of them together. He spoke to Aaron and Miriam telling them that he usually speaks to prophets in terms of visions and dreams. But with Moses I speak face to face, clearly not in riddles for he sees the form of the Lord. So Moses was a servant in his entire house. Note that in dealing with poetry, you don’t take it literally along with apocalyptic literature. Like in ‘show of good’; this is a figure of speech.

II. Parallelism

A. Bishop Lowth

First, Bishop Lowth drew attention to parallel structures in Hebrew Poetry of the Bible in 1753. He was a Bishop in the Church of England and a professor of poetry at Oxford. Note that some of the rabbis in the 11th century had also observed parallelism. Everyone who works with poetry works with this parallelism. It is fundamental to the understanding of Hebrew poetry. Lowth defined it as the correspondence of one verse, or line, with another. When a proposition is delivered, and a second is subjoined to it, or drawn under it, equivalent, or contrasted with it, in sense; or similar to it in the form of grammatical construction; these I call parallel lines, and the words or phrases, answering one to another in the corresponding lines, parallel terms. Notice how he thinks of it: it is subjoined to it; it is added to it; it is drawn under it; it is equivalent and contrasted with it. There was a revolution in 1980 in the understanding of Hebrew poetry.  In the following the second line is like a shadow of the first line: ‘the swan upon Saint Mary’s Lake Floats double, swan and shadow.’

Note that post-Lowthian refinements have never been standardized. A line can be referred to as a ‘stich’ or colon and when you put the two lines together, we refer to that as a bi-colon (also called a bi-cola) and when you have three lines together it is referred to as a tri-colon. Psalm 1:1 is an example of this: ‘blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.’

B. Lowth’s Three Types of Parallelism

There are three types of parallelism: synonymous, antithetic and synthetic. In synonymous parallelism, the parallel verset refers to the same linguistic referents. In Psalm 2:5, ‘He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath.’ Here, we see that rebukes is matched with terrifies and anger with matched with wrath. In regards to Antithetic, we saw this is Psalm 1. The parallel verset contrasts with the first. Now the following is Chiastic: For the LORD knows the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked will perish. The first line ends with the way of the righteous and the next line begins with the way of the wicked. The LORD knows is opposite to perish; so the contrast to ‘knows’ is ‘perish’. Therefore one is life and one is death. Now in synthetic there is no shadow. It is just like prose. Psalm 1:2, ‘but who delights in the law of the LORD and meditates on his law day and night.’ The second line adds to the first line. In addition, delights and meditates go together. Psalm 2:6 is also synthetic, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ My holy hill matches Zion.

C. Kugel and Alter Rejection of Lowth

Now, two people: Kugel and Alter have changed the way people think about poetry. They reject Lowth’s restatement/synonymity. They say that the second line is emphatic and adds to it or reinforces it. It is saying more. So the poet goes back to the beginning again, and says the same thing once more, though he may partly or completely change the actual words to avoid monotony. The definition now of parallelism is statement / related and or, emphatic statement, not restatement; thus you are not saying the same thing over again; instead, it enriches it. They feel that in Lowth’s view, synonymity was often imposed where it did not exist, sharpness was lost, and the real nature of biblical parallelism was henceforth condemned to a perpetual ‘falling between two stools’. So the second verse strengthens and reinforces the first. Note that B was connected to A, had something in common with it, but was not expected to be a mere restatement. It is the dual nature of B both to come after A and thus to add to it, often particularizing, defining, or expanding the meaning and harken back to A and in an obvious way to connect to it. Simply B connected to A carried it further, echoing it, defining it, restating it, contrasting with it and has an emphatic seconding character, and it is this more than any aesthetic of symmetry or paralleling, which is at the heart of biblical parallelism. To sum this up, biblical lines are parallel not because B typically supports A, it carries it further, backs it up, completes it and goes beyond it. For ‘the swan upon St Mary’s Lake floats double: goose and gander.’ We see now that swan is divided up by goose and gander, male and female. It is a related statement, not a restatement. So synthetic parallelism is normal, not abnormal and so the variety of possible relations between cola/stichoi is endless. This parallelism has much variety and many gradations; it is sometimes more accurate and manifest, sometimes more vague and obscure. For the rabbis who composed and develop Hebrew poetry thought of it as differentiation.

Take for example John 19:24, this is the story where Jesus was on the Cross and they took his garments and divided these them among them and then took his cloak and cast lots for it. The quote is actually, ‘they divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots’. This is a quote from Psalm 22:18 saying the same thing: ‘they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ Now from Lowth’s view point, clothes and garments are saying the same thing but from Kugel’s viewpoint, they are saying different things. This is what John does; there is a difference between garments and cloak. This is what John sees. So this is the difference from saying the same thing as saying different things. Another example in Zechariah 9:9, ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ You have the king riding a donkey, on a colt of a donkey. The Hebrew says, ‘and on a colt’. So the donkey is now defined as a colt of a donkey, but Matthew doesn’t it read that way; ‘behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ So there are two animals, a donkey and a colt. So Matthew is some way pictures Jesus as both with a donkey and with a colt and they were distinguished. Whether they are the same thing or they are different things.

Another example, look at Psalms 2:5, ‘then he will rebuke them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury.’ For Lowth, rebuke and terrify is saying the same thing. But they are not the same thing. Rebuke is what the Lord does, terrify is what they fear, yet they are related. I personally argue in favor of Kugel over Lowth.

III. Accents and Continuous Dichotomy

Every verse has two halves and it is divided in Hebrew by a certain accent mark. This puts it into an A verset and a B verset. The A and the B makes the bi-colon as mentions already. Now the accents go further and so you get the A and B divided. Look at the following graphic.

Isaiah 53:2 ‘He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.’ This is the major A part with a and b. Now the B part, ‘he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, and nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.’ The A here is figurative: a shoot, a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty, nothing that we should be attracted to him. He did not look like a king; he came, riding on a donkey about the size of a large dog with his feet dragging along the ground. What kind of king is this? This not what you would expect for a king! Notice that the A is figurative and the B is literal. Look at the following graphic, a third division.

IV. Psalm 23

1 I AM is my shepherd, I do not want.
2 In green pastures he allows me to rest; by choice28 watering places he leads me.
3 My vitality he restores; he leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk in a dark ravine, I do not fear evil, for you are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare before me a table in the presence of my enemies; you anoint with oil my head; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and kindness will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will return to dwell in the house of the I AM for endless days,

This is a Psalm of David, a song with instruments. In verse 3, I translated soul to vitality. In the New Testament you have a soul which is from body, soul and spirit. In the Old Testament soul means your desires and appetites. In ‘my soul yeans for you O Lord’ says that you thirst for the Lord. I understand this Psalm to have three scenes. The first scene is that of a shepherd with his sheep out in a pasture land. The Psalmist is a sheep with Israel’s God being the shepherd. The second scene begins in verse 5 is of a person in his tent as a host and the Psalmist is a guest with this person. So in the second scene, we are now in a tent with a table and a cup. He is being entertained in the tent. The third scene is at the temple. We have left imagery and figurative and allegory of pasture and tent. We now come to reality of the temple. The temple is the pasture and the tent. That is where this happens. This is about God’s goodness. The metaphor is transmuted into an extended allegory that coheres by following the typical day in the life of a shepherd. In the morning he leads his sheep to green pastures and then, at noon, allows them to rest in the grassy pastures by cool and quiet waters. This imagery is to teach me about God’s goodness and kindness. So the shepherd leads his sheep from the sheepfold along safe paths to the green pastures and refreshing water and then back to the sheepfold. The way home is through a dark ravine but he doesn’t have any fear because God is with him. When he gets back to the sheepfold, he changes the imagery to a tent. He teaches the same thing. You prepare a table before me which is equal to the green pastures. He is having this in the midst of all his enemies who are looking on. He is being protected. It is great to be a sheep in green pastures but better yet to be a guest in a tent with a table of food set for him, but it is even better to be in the temple with the Lord which is eternal.

In verse 1 to 3, he is talking about the shepherd. He is talking to the congregation that is gathered at the temple. The King is speaking and he is telling them that the Lord is my shepherd and he provides for me. Then in the tent, he is talking directly to God in saying, ‘you prepare a table before me.’ This is the nature of poetry, in making such shifts done so smoothly. Then in verse 6, he is talking again to the congregation, telling them that God is faithful and good for endless days. There is a Janus (a transition from one section to another section) here; in that he begins talking to God under the imagery of the sheep and pasture. Verse 4, ‘even though I walk in a dark ravine, I do not fear evil, for you are with me.’ He is already talking to God. He made the switch here in verse 4, from talking about God to talking to God. You see how brilliantly put together it is. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ as son of David according to the flesh experiences the shepherding care of his Father in heaven, and as son of God becomes the good shepherd providing, restoring, guiding and protecting his sheep. Jesus gave his life for us.