283 – Psalm 9 – poetry in motion
If you type “define psalm” in an internet search engine you will undoubtedly come across the exact definition I did, which is, “A sacred song; a hymn.” For the modern-day believer, however, it is not natural to think of the Psalms as actual songs. Why? Because we don’t sing them. A quick Logos Bible Software search yields this definition, מִזְמוֹר miz·môr accompanied song; worldly song; psalm.
I think it is more natural for us to think of the Psalms as a book of prayers, but consider how the New Testament writers viewed the Psalms.
Colossians 3:16 (NKJV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Ephesians 5:19 (NKJV) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,
Not only were the Psalms sung to Yahweh God in worship but they were sung to each other as one form of communicating doctrine. Interestingly, it wasn’t until sometime in the late 1800s (near as I can tell) that Hymns began to replace the Psalms as the preferred congregational music.
The point is, all one hundred and fifty Psalms were sung at one point or another as a form of congregational worship. To forget this point will most certainly cloud our study of the Psalms. When we understand the Psalms to be songs it then makes sense to consider the poetic form of each of them.
Besides, music is a very effective way to communicate the emotions behind the words being sung. Here are the remaining verses in Psalm 9. Let’s see what observations await us.
Psalm 9:16 – 20 (NKJV)
16 The [YHWH] is known by the judgment He executes; The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Meditation. Selah
17 The wicked shall be turned into hell, And all the nations that forget God.
18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten; The expectation of the poor shall not perish forever.
19 Arise, O [YHWH], Do not let man prevail; Let the nations be judged in Your sight.
20 Put them in fear, O [YHWH], That the nations may know themselves to be but men.
Verse 16 is in the poetic antithetical form of Hebrew parallelism or poetry. The initial thought is antithetical to the subsequent thought. Simply put, the thoughts are contrasting. YHWH is contrasted with the wicked. YHWH is free to execute His judgment, whereas the wicked are trapped by their wickedness.
In Verse 17 we see synthetic (additional information revealed) parallelism being employed. Not only is each individual wicked person turned into hell, but entire nations that “forget God” are too. The overwhelming nature of the statement should strike the reader as incredibly sober and worthy of note.
Verse 18 is also in the form of synthetic parallelism. “The needy shall not always be forgotten…” is explained to us as “the expectation of the poor shall not perish forever”. What does that mean? I believe it is in reference to the poor person’s hope. Their expectation of rescue will not be dashed is a negative way to say, the poor person’s hope will come to fruition.
Obviously, when we do the work of determining which version of parallelism is being employed by the Psalmist it slows us down and causes us to notice more. But besides that, can you see how determining the poetic form helps us understand the meaning of the verses?
Because these devotional posts are so short, I don’t always take the time to determine the parallelism. But our personal study of the Psalms would be greatly enriched if we would discipline ourselves to identify the poetic forms in each of these biblical songs.
YHWH willing, we will discuss the final two verses in Psalm 9 next time. YHWH God is so very good and His Word so rich and meaning full! Praise Him in your prayers and sing to Him in worship!