Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Psalm Kind of Introduction (Psalm 1-2)

Psalms 1-2 clearly form an introductory unit to the book of Psalms, which sets the tone for the whole Psalter.[1] That the two psalms were understood as forming an introduction is confirmed by the fact that the LXX (Septuagint) Psalter includes superscriptions for every psalm except these two.[2] Furthermore, the link between the two psalms is evident from the inclusio formed by the blessing at the beginning of Psalm 1 and at the end of Psalm 2. Psalm 1:1 begins, “Blessed is the man”, while Psalm 2 ends, “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him”(2:11). This observation was made in rabbinic tradition.[3]

Along with the blessing inclusio, there are other parallels as well. In Psalm 1:6 we read that “the way of the wicked will perish”, while in Psalm 2:11, we find that those who do not fear the Lord will “perish in the way”. Likewise, in Psalm 1:1 the blessed man “sits not in the seat of scoffers”, whereas in Psalm 2:4, the Lord “sits” in heaven and laughs, scoffing at the wicked, so to speak. Finally, in Psalm 1:2 the blessed man “meditates” on the law of God, while in Psalm 2:1 the same word used for “meditate”, the Greek word in the LXX and the Hebrew word in the MT, is used for those who “plot” in vain.[4]

The first psalm contains many motifs also found in the sapiential literature: the contrast of the righteous and the wicked is a common theme found throughout the wisdom tradition; the Edenic imagery; the inevitable judgment of the wicked; the idea that the blessed man walks not in the “counsel” of the wicked. Psalm 2, like Psalm 1, also evokes wisdom themes, portraying David as a “wise” man. As the wisdom literature teaches, David places the “fear of the Lord” over the fear of impending death from his enemies, trusting that the Lord is capable of delivering him.[5] Sheppard explains:
“The profane nations and rulers in Ps 2 are identified with those who walk the way of sinners and the wicked in Ps 1. Opposite these, one finds the divine king depicted in the language of Nathan’s oracle as one who, by contrastive implication, walks in the way of the righteous. Consequently, David is represented in Ps 2 both as the author of the Psalms and also as one who qualifies under the injunction of Ps 1 to interpret the Torah as a guide to righteousness.”[6]
As the implied author of the psalm, David is portrayed as the teacher of wisdom: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise, be warned O rulers of the earth” (2:10).

In fact, the book of Proverbs begins with many of the same themes the that open up the Psalter:
—the contrast of the two ways (Ps 1:1; 2:11; Prov 1:15)
—the wicked as scoffers (Ps 1:1; Prov 1:22)
—description of the “righteous” (Ps 1:5; Prov 1:3)
—the motif of ‘walking’ (Ps 1:1; Prov 1:15)
—accepting right “counsel” (Ps 1:1; 2:2; Prov 1:25, 30)
—the use of “torah” (Ps 1:2; Prov 1:8—mother’s “teaching”)
—“fruit” (Ps 1:3; Prov 1:31)
—the fear and knowledge of the Lord (Ps 1:6; 2:10, 11; Prov 1:7, 22, 29)
—laughing, mocking, and derision (Ps 2:4; Prov 1:26)[7]

The first two psalms also introduce motifs that are especially dominant in Book I. The contrast between the wise and the foolish, the righteous and the wicked, etc., is found in almost every psalm of the first book of the Psalter (Ps 1-41), with David identifying himself as the former in conflict with the latter, anticipating his enemies’ final destruction.[8] In fact, nearly half of all the references to the “wicked” found in the Psalter are found in Book I.

Book I, then, is predominately a prayer of David (all of the superscriptions ascribe the psalms to David). Virtually all of the psalms in this collection have to deal with David’s struggle with his enemies and his trust in God through life-threatening ordeals.[9] Psalms 1 and 2, therefore, set the stage. There David is portrayed as the wise man who meditates on God’s law (Psalm 1:1-2) and who is rescued by the Lord because he trusts in Him (Psalm 2:4-9), fearing Him rather than those who seek his life (Psalm 2:10-11).

[1] Patrick Miller, “The Beginning of the Psalter,” in The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter (ed., J. C. McCann; Sheffield: Sheffield Press, 1993): 85: “[The connections between Psalms 1-2] indicate, at least on the editing level, that Psalms 1-2 were to be read together as an entrĂ©e into the Psalter.”
[2] David Howard, The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter, 58: “Most introductions and commentaries . . . note that while the Masoretic text (MT) of the Psalter carries superscriptions for only 116 psalms, the Septuagint (LXX) carries superscriptions for all but Psalms 1 and 2, lending credence to this idea.”
[3] See Gerald Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985), 205.
[4] For these three connections see Scott Harris, “Proverbs 1:8-19, 20-23 As ‘Introduction,’” Revue Biblique 107-2 (2000): 211-212.
[5] See Psalm 2:10-11: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise. . . serve the Lord with fear.” Proverbs 9:11 states: “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.”
[6] Gerald Sheppard, Wisdom as a Hermeneutical Construct (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), 142.
[7] See Harris, “Proverbs 1:8-19, 20-23 as ‘Introduction,’” 215-218.
[8] This kind of contrast is present in Psalm 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41. Also see Patrick Miller, “The Beginning of the Psalter,” in The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter, 85.
[9] The only Psalms in Book I which do not bear this connection are Psalms 8, 15, 19, 24, 29.

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