Blogging the Psalmist

“Why should anyone devote a contemporary blog to David, to delving deeply into his life and prayers and to reflecting and meditating on his poetry?” one might ask. It certainly is a legitimate question and one that deserves more than just a word or two in response. So I have attempted to address it as thoroughly yet succinctly as I can in the “Why David?” section of this blog. I invite you to take a look.

But before you go there, let me be the one to pose and answer a couple of related questions: why am I writing this blog? and why now? It’s a story I love to tell. You can read it here.

The Heart of Psalm 119 (Part 3)

geese2 (1 of 1)

In The Heart of Psalm 119 (Part 2) our focus was on examining how the elements of design and structure in the psalm support, enhance and help define its meaning. The frequently discussed word pattern also clearly falls within the category of design, whether one accepts the traditional view that it is comprised of nine key words that all reference the law or embraces my opinion that there are twelve words. [Read more…]

The Heart of Psalm 119 (Part 2)

In the first part of this series I mentioned the “acrostic pattern” and “intricate architecture” of this magnificent poem. Those passing references were insufficient to convey the importance of structure, however. Understanding it, and the purposeful complexity of design within it, is absolutely critical, I believe, to fully apprehending David’s purpose in this psalm.

First, and most fundamental, is the fact that the psalmist-poet himself was utterly dedicated to conforming his expression to a particular and stringent “architecture.” Serious poets and students and readers of literature, even in this postmodern age, acknowledge that form in poetry supports its meaning. [Read more…]

The Heart of Psalm 119 (Part 1)

Favorite Woodland Trail

It has been several months since I last spoke in this space. There is no easy transition from that silence, and even less to the subject that I have finally mustered the courage to engage. I must both confess and warn that in finally breaking the silence, I will also be breaking with the tradition of literally centuries of scholars and theologians who have examined, studied, prayed, written and instructed others about the intricacies and meaning of the longest poem in the Hebrew book of Praises (tehillim), namely Psalm 119. I do so cautiously and prayerfully, trusting that the skill I bring, honed in the formal study of textual criticism and literary manuscript revision, can bring some valid new insight here. [Read more…]

The Heart of Joy

Swallowtail with Broken Wing

In response to my June post on the Heart of Happiness, a thoughtful reader commented “I have frequently used joy instead of happy” and inquired whether or not I thought that substitution would “work.” I responded that I did not know, but I certainly would take a look at the Hebrew text and search out an answer.  Although I could easily recite from memory several verses in the psalms that speak of joy, I had never really spent much time contemplating the psalmist’s focus on joy or examining the nature of  joy in the psalms. [Read more…]

The Heart of Happiness

Light Breaks over Montana

Both regular and casual readers of the psalms might legitimately question my supposition that the heart of “the man after God’s own heart” was one primarily characterized by and possessed of happiness. In light of the fact that the psalter is heavily laden with poems of complaint and lament, many of which were composed by David, I realize that mine is a bold statement. But I believe that it is supported both by the text and the life of David. So I will attempt now not so much to defend my assertion as to lead others along the path that led me to that conclusion. [Read more…]

The Silence of the Heart

Footprints in New Snow

Although it was centuries after King David’s death that Habakkuk wrote “But the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him,”(Hab 2:20), it is certainly reasonable to expect the great psalmist might have uttered Habakkuk’s words on more than one occasion. We do not have any Biblical record of his doing so exactly, but he does begin Psalm 62 with the straightforward declaration, “For God alone my soul waits in silence” (Ps 62:1). So the central position that silence holds in David’s spiritual sojourns is clear. For him, it seems, such silent waiting was essential to opening the way to hear clearly from his Lord.  [Read more…]

The Heart of Blessing (Part Four)

Small Blaze of Fall

The final section of Psalm 103 is the shortest of the four, containing only three verses. But the all of verses 20 through 22 is the most expansive including in one small word the whole creation, animate and inanimate, earthly and celestial. And the entirety of this all is called upon by the psalmist to “Bless the Lord” in what I imagine as a glorious cosmic symphony.  In addition, the last line of the poem– Bless, O my being, the Lord! –repeats the opening line using a literary device known as envelope structure, which is characteristic of many of the psalms and other ancient Hebrew poetry. In a handful of words, it neatly envelops the entire psalm by repeating the primary theme around which it is constructed. In this case, the poet also uses it to bring the universal tribute back to his own intensely personal outpouring of reverence, homage and joy. [Read more…]

The Heart of Blessing (Part Three)

Just South of Inverness

In my initial post on Psalm 103, I designated this third of the four alls, or sections, that comprise the poem as the “contextual” one. While that may be accurate in terms of the literary purpose it serves, the terminology falls extraordinarily short of capturing the essence of verses 6 through 19. This portion of the psalm truly centers on the heart of blessing — that is, on the manner in which God interacts in unique covenant relationship with David and with all of His people. [Read more…]

The Heart of Blessing (Part Two)

What I Find, What I Keep

In this Part Two of the Heart of Blessing we begin looking at the second of the alls Psalm 103 presents, namely the all of the character and nature of the God of Israel. Surely David understood as well as any man that no language can fully convey what the human mind can only partially perceive. He also seemed to realize that the various formal aspects of poetry could provide him the best tool through which to intertwine verbal expression with nonverbal or spiritual thought, so he drew on that skill in the intricate crafting of this psalm. Within that framework, we now begin to look for the heart of this praise song by mining the mother lode of verses two through five. [Read more…]

The Heart of Blessing (Part One)

Psalm 103 is surely one of the most familiar of all the psalms and its opening line often quoted or adapted in prayer, sermon and song. The majority of the standard English texts over the centuries– from the King James to the recent English Standard Version and numerous others as well– render its opening line with exactly the same words:  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and everything that is within me, bless His Holy name.”  I have loved that verse (Ps 103:1a) for as long as I can remember knowing it. But my study of the holy poem in its original Hebrew has opened my appreciation to scholar Robert Alter’s translation of those critical first words: “Bless, O my being, the Lord, and everything in me, His holy name.” [Read more…]