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Formerly Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series

Claudia V. Camp, Texas Christian University
Andrew Mein, Westcott House, Cambridge

Founding Editors
David J. A. Clines, Philip R. Davies and David M. Gunn

Editorial Board
Richard J. Coggins, Alan Cooper, John Goldingay, Robert P. Gordon,
Norman K. Gottwald, Gina Hens-Piazza, John Jarick, Andrew D. H. Mayes,
Carol Meyers, Patrick D. Miller, Yvonne Sherwood
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Studies in the Rhetoric of the Psalms

edited by

Robert L. Foster
David M. Howard, Jr.

t7t clark

new you
Copyright 2008 by Robert L. Foster and David M. Howard, Jr.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher, T & T Clark

T & T Clark International, 80 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-PublicatioD Data

My words are lovely : studies in the rhetoric of the Psalms / edited by Robert L. Foster and
David M. Howard, Jr.
p. cm. ~ (The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament studies ; 467)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-567-02653-8 (hardcover : alk. paper)
ISBN-10: 0-567-02653-1 (hardcover: alk. paper)
1. Bible. O.T. PsalmsCriticism, interpretation, etc. I. Foster, Robert Louis. II. Howard,
David M., Jr. HI. Title.

BS1430.52.M9 2007


0607080910 1 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Printed and bound in Great Britain by Biddies Ltd., King's Lynn, Norfolk

Preface vii
Editors' Acknowledgments ix
Abbreviations xi
List of Contributors xiii

Rolf Jacobson 3


Dale Patrick and Kenneth Diable 19


LeAnn Snow Flesher 33


J. Kenneth Kuntz 46


William P. Brown 63


Robert L. Foster 75
vi "My Words Are Lovely"

Part II


Johan H. Coetzee 91


Diane Jacobson 107


Nancy L. deClaisse-Walford 121


David M. Howard, Jr. 132


W. H. Bellinger, Jr. 147


PSALMS 105 AND 106
Thomas H. Olbricht 156


H. Viviers 171

Index of References 187

Index of Authors 197

As the authors of The Postmodern Bible end their chapter on rhetorical criticism,
they write, "The jury is still out, therefore, on just how successful and profitable
the application of rhetorical theory has become in the rebirth of rhetorical
criticism in biblical interpretation."1 Part of their concern is the seemingly
uncritical adaptation of various rhetorical theories without the interpreters'
awareness of their own rhetorical situation and aims and how these influence the
use of rhetorical theories.
We, the editors, share this concern, and the present volume is an attempt to
recapture what has been central to the study of rhetoric since at least the time of
Aristotle, namely, a focus on the means of persuasion in a discourse. Already in
1994, David Howard had noted a contrary tendency in rhetorical-critical
approaches in Old Testament studies, which tended to focus primarily on stylis-
tics, and he called for a return to a focus on the persuasive aims of a text.2 A
decade later, Robert Foster had come to a similar conclusion as he observed
rhetorical-critical studies of the prophets and the Psalms. This volume is a
product of our dissatisfaction with the prevailing state of affairs and a reflection
of our mutual interest in Psalms study.
The scope of the essays has not been limited to a particular rhetorical
method,3 and so readers will note a variety of approaches to the Psalms, from
discussions using classical rhetorical categories to use of modern cognitive
science. What ties these essays together is an interest in determining the persua-
sive aim of the psalms/psalmists. The essays in Part I of this volume address
either overarching methodological concerns or discuss topics of broad interest
(e.g. lament). Part II consists of essays treating the rhetorical effect of one or
two individual psalms.
In his lead essay, Rolf Jacobson urges that "Rhetorical analysts of the Psalms
should pay attention to their own rhetorical situations and aims and ^eigh those
when considering how to imagine the rhetorical situation of a psalm''' (p. 18
[emphasis his]). Our hope is that all the essays here will stimulate further study
of the Psalms with rhetorical analysis as the basic approach. It seems to us that

1. The Bible and Culture Collective, The Postmodern Bible (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Uni-
versity Press, 1995), 184.
2. David M. Howard, Jr., "Rhetorical Criticism in Old Testament Studies," BBR 4 (1994): 87-
104. See also Dale Patrick and Allen Scult, "Rhetoric and Ideology: A Debate within Biblical
Scholarship over the Import of Persuasion," in Rhetorical Interpretation of Scripture (ed. Stanley E.
Porter and Dennis L. Stamps; JSNTSup 180; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 63-83.
3. Which is a major concern of the authors of The Postmodern Bible, 183-85.
viii "My Words Are Lovely"

the landscape of Psalms research4 has yet to benefit fully from rhetorical analy-
sis as a way of understanding the psalms and their effects. Our hopes for this
collection are (1) that the essays themselves contribute to Psalms research via
rhetorical-critical methodologies that emphasize persuasion, and (2) that they
stimulate further research along the lines outlined here.
This project had its genesis at a joint session of the Psalms Section and
Wisdom in Israelite and Cognate Traditions Section at the 2003 SBL Annual
Meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, which discussed the validity of the label "wisdom
psalms" and wisdom elements within the Psalter. During the discussion, Robert
Foster wondered aloud as to whether the existence of discrete units of psalms
led to the impulse to label the form of each psalm. It seemed that in the study of
the prophets the move toward rhetorical criticism freed individuals from this
need to label each section in the prophetic corpus and allowed for a greater focus
on the development of the argument.
Over time Robert engaged a number of other scholars in this discussion, and
eventually hatched the idea for the present volume. He enlisted most of the
contributors for the volume, and initiated conversations with T&T Clark Interna-
tional. At a critical juncture, he asked David Howard to serve as co-editor, who
readily accepted the invitation, at which point T&T Clark International accepted
the project for publication. We now are pleased to offer this collection as an
example of the great benefits of rhetorical criticism in Psalms research.
The title for this volume, My Words Are Lovely, translates the last clause of
Ps 141:6. This clause expresses our belief that the psalmists, in seeking to
persuade God and humanity, formed their words artfully in order to achieve
their desired effect. The essays collected here help to expose the artistry of the
psalmists that have made their words persuasive for several thousand years.

Robert L. Foster
Dallas, Texas
David M. Howard, Jr.
Bethel Seminary
St. Paul, Minnesota

4. To our knowledge, the only commentary to employ rhetorical criticism throughout is the
recent work by Richard J. Clifford, Psalms 1-72; Psalms 73-150 (AOTC; Nashville: Abingdon,
2002, 2003).

In the development of any endeavor such as this, one incurs any number of debts
to individuals who encouraged its final completion. We thank T&T Clark
International for accepting this project, and Claudia Camp and Andrew Mein,
editors of the Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies series, for their
assistance. We also thank Henry Carrigan, who served as chief editor of this
project until his move to another press. We thank them for their encouragement
and their willingness to answer questions and make adjustments as this volume
Robert wishes to honor James Thompson for stimulating his initial interest in
rhetorical criticism nearly ten years ago in a Biblical Exegesis seminar and for
his continued interest in and contribution to my development as a scholar. I
especially want to thank Bill Brown for not only serving as my initial discussion
partner as this project began to take shape, but also for being the first to sign on
as a contributor. I thank Richard D. Nelson, my Doktorvater, for his consistent
encouragement of my academic endeavors, including the work on this volume.
I appreciate my friend Charme Robarts for not only graciously reading (and
re-reading) the essay I contribute to this volume, but also for her persistent enthu-
siasm for the development of this project. I thank David Howard for accepting
the role of co-editor and for his editorial work; without him this book might
never have seen the light of day. Finally, I must also thank my wife Alys, whose
unfailing love and support enables me to persist through many difficulties and
obstacles in life and work, though thankfully few were associated with the
production of this volume.
David wishes to honor Kenneth Kuntz, a friend since 1983, with whom I
have profitably discussed both rhetorical criticism and Psalms over the years. I
have been the beneficiary of his erudition in his many writings, and also of his
kindnesses and interest on a personal level. I thank my co-editor, Robert Foster,
for inviting me to join the project; our joint labors have been stimulating and
enjoyable. My wife Jan, as always, has affirmed my work on this latest writing
project. And, I must acknowledge a debt to our youngest daughter Melody, who
has been waiting for "Dad's next book" to be dedicated to her. Sadly, this is not
the one for that, so she will have to wait a little longer.
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ABD Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by D. N. Freedman. 6 vols.

New York, 1992
ANE Ancient Near East
ANEP The Ancient Near East in Pictures Related to the Old
Testament. Edited by J. B. Pritchard. Princeton, 1954
ANET Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament.
Edited by J. B. Pritchard. 3d ed. 1969
AOTC Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries
ASTI Annual of the Swedish Theological Institute
BBR Bulletin for Biblical Research
BHS Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Edited by K. Elliger and W.
Rudolph. Stuttgart, 1983
BKAT Biblischer Kommentar, Altes Testament. Edited by M. Noth
and H. W. Wolff
BN Biblische Notizen
BTB Biblical Theology Bulletin
BZAW Beihefte zur Zeitschrift ftir die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly
CBR Currents in Biblical Research
CC Continental Commentary
CurBS Currents in Research: Biblical Studies
CurTM Currents in Theology and Mission
Di Dialog
ECC Eerdmans Critical Commentary
ExAud Ex auditu
FAT Forschungen zum Alten Testament
FBBS Facet Books, Biblical Series
FOTL Forms of the Old Testament Literature
GBS Guides to Biblical Scholarship
HAT Handbuch zum Alten Testament
HvTSt Hervormde teologiese studies
IB Interpreter's Bible. Edited by G. A. Buttrick et al. 12 vols.
New York, 1951-57
IBC Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and
Int Interpretation
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
JNES Journal of Near Eastern Studies
JNSL Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages
JSNTSup Journal for the Study of the New Testament: Supplement Series
JSOTSup Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series
Xll "My Words Are Lovely "

KAT Kommentar zum Alten Testament

LCL Loeb Classic Library
NCB New Century Bible
NEchtB Neue Echter Bibel
NIB The New Interpreter's Bible
NIBCOT New International Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament
NRSV New Revised Standard Version
OBT Overtures to Biblical Theology
OTE Old Testament Essays
OTL Old Testament Library
OTS Old Testament Studies
PEQ Palestine Exploration Quarterly
PRSt Perspective in Religious Studies
RevExp Review and Expositor
RevQ Revue de Qumran
SJOT Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament
SBLDS Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series
TDOT Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Edited by G. J.
Botterweck and H. Ringgren. Translated by J. T. Willis, G. W.
Bromiley, and D. E. Green. 13 vols. Grand Rapids, 1974-
UF Ugarit-Forschungen
VT Vetus Testamentum
VTSup Vetus Testamentum Supplements
WBC Word Biblical Commentary
WMANT Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen
ZA W Zeitschrijt fur die alttestementliche Wissenschaft
ZTK Zeitschrijt Jur Theologie und Kirche

W. H. Bellinger, Jr., is the W. Marshall and Lulie Craig Professor of Bible and
Chair of the Religion Department at Baylor University, Waco, Texas, USA.

William P. Brown is the Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological

Seminary, Decatur, Georgia, USA.

Johan H. Coetzee is Professor of Old Testament Studies, the Department of

Biblical and Religious Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Nancy L. deClaisse-Walford is Associate Professor of Old Testament and

Biblical Languages and Advisor for the Academic Research Concentration at
McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University, Atlanta Georgia, USA.

Kenneth Diable is an Adjunct Faculty member in Religious Studies at Mount

Aloysius College, Cresson, Pennsylvania, USA.

Robert L. Foster is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Southern

Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, USA.

David M. Howard, Jr. is Professor of Old Testament at Bethel University, St.

Paul, Minnesota, USA.

Diane Jacobson is Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul,

Minnesota, USA.

Rolf A. Jacobson is Associate Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary, St.

Paul, Minnesota, USA.

J. Kenneth Kuntz is Professor Emeritus, Department of Religious Studies, The

University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA.

Thomas H. Olbricht is Distinguished Professor of Religion Emeritus at Pepper-

dine University, Malibu, California, USA.

Dale Patrick is Professor of Religion and Endowment Professor of the Humani-

ties, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Drake University, Des Moines,
Iowa, USA.
xiv "My Words Are Lovely"

LeAnn Snow Flesher is Professor of Old Testament at American Baptist Semi-

nary of the West at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, USA.

H. Viviers is Professor of Old Testament Studies, the Department of Biblical and

Religious Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa.
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Rolf Jacobson

I was roused by a listless exchange between a boy who wore glasses and a girl who
unfortunately did not.
"It's Foucault's Pendulum," he was saying. "First tried out in a cellar in 1851, then
shown at the Observatoire, and later under the dome of the Pantheon with a wire sixty-
seven meters long and a sphere weighing twenty-eight kilos. Since 1855 it's been here,
in a smaller version, hanging from that hole in the middle of the rib."
"What does it do? Just hang there?"
"Well, because a point.. .the central point, I mean, the one right in the middle of all
points you's a geometric point; you can't see it because it has no dimension,
and if something has no dimension, it can't move, not right or left, not up or down. So
it doesn't rotate with the earth. You understand? It can't even rotate around itself. There
is no 'itself.'"
"But the earth turns."
"The earth turns, but the point doesn't. That's how it is. Just take my word for it."
"I guess it's the Pendulum's business."

Idiot. Above her head was the only stable place in the cosmos, the only refuge from the
damnation of the panta rei, and she guessed it was the Pendulum's business, not hers. A
moment later the couple went offhe, trained on some textbook that had blunted his
capacity for wonder, she, inert and insensitive to the thrill of the infinite, both oblivious
of the awesomeness of their encountertheir first and last encounterwith the One,
the Ein-Sof, the Ineffable. How could you fail to kneel down before the altar of

1. The Place of Setting in Rhetorical Analysis

The focus of this essay is the place of setting in rhetorical analysis of the
Psalms. At first blush, this may seem an odd focus for an essay on rhetorical
analysis. Does not the concept of "setting" belong more properly in the realm of
form-critical study of the Bible? In a word: No. The concept of setting has as
much to do with rhetorical analysis as it does with formal analysis. This is so
because, as the title of Muilenburg's famous article, "Form Criticism and
Beyond," indicates, there is no clear division between formal and rhetorical

1. Umberto Eco, Foucault 's Pendulum (trans. W. Weaver; New York: Random House, 1989),
4 "My Words Are Lovely"

analysis.2 Muilenburg's aim was "not.. .to offer an alternative to form criticism
or a substitute for it, but rather to call attention to.. .supplement our form-critical
studies."3 And as Muilenburg noted, "form and content are inextricably related.
They form an integral whole. The two are one. Exclusive attention to Gattung
may actually obscure the thought and intention of the writer or speaker."4 If one
flips this last statement around, it is no less true: exclusive attention to rhetorical
features (to linguistic patterns, structural elements, rhetorical devices, and so on)
may actually obscure the thought and intention of the writer or speaker. Thus,
attention to a poem's rhetoric requires attention to setting. Otherwise, rhetorical
criticism might be reduced to some sort of empty aesthetic appreciation.
Which begs a bigger question: What is rhetorical analysis of a biblical text?
Or, better: If rhetorical analysis is about more than mere aesthetics, what is it
about? How should an interpreter understand what rhetorical analysis is trying to
accomplish? Toward what goal or goals is rhetorical analysis aimed?
According to Aristotle's famous dictum, rhetoric is "the faculty of observing
in any given case the available means of persuasion."5 If rhetorical analysis were
to take Aristotle's rubric as the point of departure, rhetorical analysis of a bib-
lical text then could be conceived as analyzing the "available means" that a given
text uses to "persuade" in a "given case." But such a conception of rhetorical
analysis would be insufficient, because not all texts intend to persuade. Yes,
there are many biblical texts that were written or spoken to persuade. But what of
psalms of praise? Or entrance liturgies? Or rites of forgiveness? Or statutes and
ordinances? Or prophetic oracles of salvation? It is not sufficient to understand
the aim of all biblical texts as trying to persuade. And thus it is not adequate to
shackle rhetorical analysis of a biblical text solely to the post of persuasion.
For the purposes of this study, rhetorical analysis "will be understood as the
task of analyzing how a biblical text does what it is trying to do. As Wayne
Booth has written, "Rhetorical study is the study of use, of purpose pursued,
targets hit or missed, practices illuminated..."6 This conception of the task is
economically concise, yet allows for interaction with texts that try to do other
than persuade. For example, it is my contention that prophetic oracles of salva-
tion do not primarily aim to persuade. Isaiah 40 or Ezekiel, for example, might
be said to be aiming to create hope ex nihilo in a population whose hope has
died. The collections of biblical law, likewise, do not primarily attempt to per-
suade. A part of what they are doing, surely, is teaching a people how to inter-
pret the law and apply the law in different settings and circumstances.
All of this brings us back to the concept of setting. Recall that Aristotle
defined rhetoric as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available
means of persuasion." That is, as Aristotle was keenly aware, the rhetorical
powers of a speaker or text are never abstract, disembodied, unconnected from

2. James Muilenburg, "Form Criticism and Beyond," JBL 88 (1969): 1-18.

3. Ibid., 18.
4. Ibid., 5.
5. Aristotle, Rhetoric, ch. 2.
6. Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (2d ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1982), 441.
JACOBSON "The Altar of Certitude" 5

real life situations. Rather, a rhetorical act assumes, in Aristotle's words, a

"given case," a setting. One cannot hope to begin to analyze what a text is
trying to do without some concept of a setting in which to frame the exegetical
data that one generates.
This is not a new insight. Proponents of rhetorical analysis have understood
the need for comprehending a text's setting. George Kennedyfollowed by
Wilhelm Wuellner, Karl Moller, and othersidentified a five-step approach to
rhetorical analysis:7
1. Delineate the text or rhetorical unit.8
2. Determine the "rhetorical situation that occasioned the utterance."9
3. Investigate the genre.
4. Analyze the rhetorical strategy.
5. Judge the effectiveness.
The obvious observation that must be made here is that the above five steps
share a great deal with traditional form-critical approaches to the Bible, espe-
cially to the Psalms. Steps 1-3 would surely be recognizable to any form critic.10
Steps 4-5 may be articulated slightly differently than traditional form critics
would do, but I know of no form critic who does not pay at least implicit
attention to rhetorical strategies or engage in evaluating a text's meaning.
But the focus of the present investigation is on the second of the above five
steps: the rhetorical situation or setting of a text. The point, again, is that
rhetorical analysis as traditionally formulated assumes the necessity for the
interpreter to identify "the specific condition or situation that prompts a specific
oral or textual utterance."11 As Bitzer has written, the rhetorical situation is the
context that "calls the discourse into existence." It consists of the "natural con-
text of person, events, objects, relations."12 As such, analysis of the rhetorical
situation is in keeping with Aristotle's rubric that rhetoric has to do with a
"given case."

7. George Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1984); Wilhelm Wuellner, "Where is Rhetorical Criticism Tak-
ing Us?," CBQ 49 (1987): 448-63; Karl Mdller, A Prophet in Debate: The Rhetoric of Persuasion in
the Book of Amos (JSOTSup 372; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003).
8. Muilenburg also identified this as the first step of rhetorical analysis ("Form Criticism and
Beyond," 8-9).
9. Moller, A Prophet in Debate, 38 (emphasis in original).
10. It is true, of course, that what is meant by genre differs wildly. Traditional rhetorical critics,
following Aristotle and the Greeks, conceived of only three genres: judicial, deliberative, and epi-
deictic (whose respective settings are the court, the legislative assembly, and the public forum).
Biblical scholars including psalms scholars, of course, have understood genre much differently.
Moller (A Prophet in Debate, 40) struggles to place his application of rhetorical analysis under the
umbrella of deliberative rhetoric. I will not enter into such a debate here; it suffices to note that the
methodological approaches of rhetorical analysis and form-critical study of the Psalter at least share
significant affinities.
11. Ibid., 38.
12. L. F. Bitzer, "The Rhetorical Situation," in Rhetoric: A Tradition in TransitionIn Honor
of Donald C Bryant (ed. W. R. Fisher; East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1974).
6 "My Words Are Lovely "

2. The Place of Setting in Psalms Scholarship

Those familiar with psalms interpretation will already know that setting has
played and continues to play a major role in the interpretation of the Psalms. But
the problem is this: no consensus exists in scholarship regarding either what the
rhetorical setting of various psalms is or regarding what methodological
approaches will best help determine those rhetorical settings.
This lack of consensus, however, is not due to a lack of proposals. The pro-
posals about how to frame and understand the rhetorical setting of the psalms
are nearly legion. For the purposes of this essay, one can understand these
proposals as falling broadly into three categories. First, there are approaches that
have understood the rhetorical setting historically. Second, there are approaches
that have understood the rhetorical setting theologically. Third, there are
approaches that have understood the rhetorical setting canonically.

a. Historical Approaches
A first set of approaches consists of those that have understood the challenge
historically. In these approaches, scholars have conceived of the challenge of
discerning the "rhetorical situation that occasioned the utterance" in a quite
literal, historical fashion. They sought to decipher who the psalmist must have
been, what situation it was in which the psalmist found himself or herself, where
the psalmist was located, who surrounded the psalmist, and so on.
This type of approach has come in many forms. In a very broad sense, this
approach was already at work before the biblical canon was closed, as is appar-
ent in the impulse to identify some of the psalms to historical incidents in the
life of David. There are thirteen such psalms in the Masoretic textual tradition
(Pss 3; 7; 18; 34; 51; 52; 54; 56; 57; 59; 60; 63; 142). The Septuagint textual
tradition further shows this impulse operating, because in the Greek translation
additional psalms bear such historical superscriptions (cf. Pss 71 [70]; 97 [96]).
What is occurring here is the pairing of a poem with a "rhetorical situation,"
namely, some event in the life of David.
In the modern period, there have been a number of proposals for understand-
ing a historical rhetorical setting for the Psalms. Most famously, Hermann
Gunkel argued that the setting of the Psalms was in the cult of ancient Israel:
"we may dare to presume that [the Psalms] arose in the cult of Israel origi-
nally."13 Gunkel believed that the poetic expressions of the Psalms derived from
cultic formulas. For Gunkel, form and functionthat is, genre and setting
were seamlessly connected. A genre implied a specific life setting from which it
could not be abstracted. In Gunkel's view, however, the majority of the extant
psalms were not ever actually used in the cult; rather, they were literary
creationsspiritual imitationsthat were patterned after actual prayers and

13. Hermann Gunkel, An Introduction to the Psalms (comp. Joachim Begrich; trans. James D.
Nogalski; Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1998), 7.
JACOBSON "The Altar of Certitude" 1

Another type of historical approach to conceiving the rhetorical setting of

the psalm is represented by Sigmund Mowinckel, Artur Weiser, and others.
Mowinckel followed Gunkel to a degree, but rejected Gunkel's view that most
of the psalms were imitations of actual cultic poems. Mowinckel demanded that
"a cultic interpretation...means setting each one of them in relation to the
definite cultic act.. .to which it belonged."14 Mowinckel placed many of the
Psalms within an annual New Year's "Enthronement of YHWH Festival," which
he argued was the cultic setting in which (following Mowinckel's sequence) Pss
47; 93; 95-100; 8; 15; 24; 29; 33; 46; 48; 50; 66A; 75; 76; 81; 82; 84; 87; 118;
132; 149; 120-34; 65; 67; and 85 were to be placed.15 In a similar vein, Weiser
placed many of the psalms in an annual Covenant Renewal Festival.16 Other
similar proposals exist.17
Another approach to understanding the rhetorical setting of the Psalms in a
historical fashion is that of Erhard Gerstenberger. Gerstenberger followed
Gunkel, Mowinckel, and others in understanding that "psalmic texts and psalm-
ody served the needs of a religious community."18 He asserted: "Form-critical
work must not content itself with an analysis of linguistic patterns.. .it must take
into account customary life situations and their distinctive speech forms."19 But
Gerstenberger diverged from his predecessors by rejecting the idea that the
Jerusalem temple during the era of the monarchy was the primary setting for the
Psalms. Rather, "the small, organic groups of family, neighborhood, or commu-
nity" and "Israel's secondary organizations" during the Persians and Hellenistic
periods were the actual historical setting for the Psalms.20 As for the poetic
language of the Psalms, he argued that scholars should "not abstract language
from its concrete life situations."21 And again: "While the linguistic, poetic, and
literary devices must be taken into account in form-critical analysis, they have to
be evaluated in their interrelation with life situations and social settings."22
The last historical approach to conceiving the idea of setting for the Psalms
that will be mentioned here is the approach of Hans-Joachim Kraus. In many
ways, form criticism of the Psalms reached its high-water mark with the final
edition of Kraus's Psalms commentary.23 And yet one can see in Kraus's work a

14. Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship (trans. D. R. Ap-Thomas; 2 vols.;
New York: Abingdon, 1962), 1:23.
15. Sigmund Mowinckel, Psalmenstudien II: Thronbesteigungsfest Jahwds und der Ursprung
der Eschatologie (Kristiania: Jacob Dybwad, 1922).
16. Artur Weiser, The Psalms (OIL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962).
17. See the work, for example, of Aubrey Johnson, The Cultic Prophet and Israel's Psalmody
(Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1979).
18. Eihard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 1, with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry (FOIL 14;
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 5.
19. Ibid., 33.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid., 34.
22. Ibid., 35.
23. Available in English as Psalms 1-59 and Psalms 60-150 (CC; Minneapolis: Augsburg,
1988, 1989).
8 "My Words Are Lovely "

deep awareness that the marriage between form and function in form-critical
interpretation was strained to the point of breaking. Kraus recalled that, accord-
ing to Gunkel, only "such poems may constitute a type as belong entirely to a
specific occasion in worship or at least emerged from this occasion."24 And yet,
Kraus noted that some genres of psalms, such as royal psalms, do not consist of
common literary forms. This means that the marriage between form and function
had not been conceived of in a sufficiently nuanced fashion. In terms of life
setting, Kraus noted two extreme approachesif one focuses on the formal
aspects of the literature, then the life setting recedes into the background; but if
one focuses on the life situation and posits a grand life setting (a la MowinckePs
grand Enthronement Festival proposal), then formally different psalms are
dissolved into each other. Kraus sought to navigate a course that would steer
between these two extremes by investigating the form of each individual psalm
precisely; he then pursued each psalm's literary form in order to avoid the cult-
functional excesses. His approach, broadly stated, was to find the life settings of
individual psalms.
For those contemporary scholars who still look for a historical approach to
framing the rhetorical setting of a psalm, Kraus's proposal is the default setting.
Interpreters seek to postulate an original life setting for each individual psalm.
Most have given up on trying to postulate one setting from which a genre of
psalms emerged or one grand liturgical festival setting in which to contextualize
many psalms. The historical approach to setting that operates is by and large a
micro-conception of the concept: the search for the historical setting of each
individual psalm.

b. Theological Approaches. A second set of approaches to the issue of setting

consists of those approaches that have sought to contextualize the rhetorical
setting of the Psalms in a theological manner. At the outset, for some, it may be
surprising to suggest that there is some way other than the historical in which to
understand the setting of a text. After all, this essay defined setting above as "the
specific condition or situation that prompts a specific oral or textual utterance."25
But as Wuellner noted, setting, or "context" as he names it here, need not be
understood in a narrowly historical fashion:
By "context" is meant more than historical context or literary tradition or genre or the
generic Site im Leben... A text's context means for the rhetorical critic the "attitudi-
nizing conventions, precepts that condition (both the writer's and the reader's) stance
toward experience, knowledge. Tradition, language, and other people." Context can
also come close to being synonymous with.. .the "ideology" of, or in, literature.26

An aside. It should be emphasized at this point that no absolute division

exists between the historical approaches outlined above and either the theologi-
cal or canonical approaches that will be outlined below. Many interpreters who

24. Kraus, Psalms 7-59, 38.

25. Ibid.
26. Wuellner, "Where is Rhetorical Criticism Taking Us?," 450 (emphasis in orginal).
JACOBSON "The Altar of Certitude" 9

operate historically are deeply theologically, and all of those who frame the
issue theologically also rely significantly on historical data. However, distin-
guishing between approaches that frame the task historically and those that do
so theologically or canonically is at least heuristically helpful.
Claus Westermann is one scholar who approached the rhetorical situation of
the Psalms theologically. Building upon GunkeFs basic insight that in terms of
the life of faith, praise and lament are like the two complementary shells of a
mussel, Westermann wrote that "recognition begins to dawn that somehow the
observation that the life situation of the Psalms is the cult cannot really be right.
For that which really, in the last analysis occurs in the Psalms is prayer."27
It is high time finally to ask soberly what is regarded as cult in the Old Testament and
what the Old Testament says about cult. It will then be impossible to avoid the fact that
in the Old Testament there is no absolute, timeless entity called "cult," but that worship
in Israel, in its indissolvable connection with the history of God's dealings with his
people, developed gradually in all its various relationships...and that therefore the
categories of the Psalms can be seen only in connection with this history.28

Westermann goes on to criticize GunkePs contention that the hymn grew out of
worship. Westermann notes that two of the examples that Gunkel gives of the
oldest hymns are those of Miriam (Exod 15) and Deborah (Judg 5)which
cannot "be called cultic in the strict sense" because they occur in daily life.29
Thus, Westermann concludes: "The Song of Miriam and the Song of Deborah...
show, rather, with unmistakable clarity what the Sitz-im-Leben of the hymn is:
the experience of God's intervention in history. God has acted; he has helped his
people. Now praise must be sung to him."30
As for the psalm of lament, Westermann argues that "lamentation is a phe-
nomenon characterized by three determinant elements: the one who laments,
God, and the others, i.e., that circle of people among whom or against whom the
one who laments stands with a complaint."31 For Westermann, this situation is
fundamentally theological: "The lament is an event between the one who
laments, God, and 'the enemy.' It arises from a situation of great need and, for
the people of the Old Testament, this need took on a three-dimensional charac-
ter."32 Note, then, the fundamentally theological fashion in which Westermann
construes the rhetorical situation of the lament. It is the rhetorical "situation of
great need" characterized by a three-fold relationship between a psalmist, God,
and a community.

27. Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), 24.
28. Ibid., 20.
29. Ibid., 22.1 have offered a similar argument in "The Costly Loss of Praise," Theology Today
57 (2000): 375-85. Note that in Westermann's work, he also denies the cultic character of the song
of the Seraphim in Isa 6, which Gunkel had cited. It seems to me rather clear that Westermann is
wrong in this detail, but this error does not undermine his substantive point.
30. Westermann, Praise and Lament, 22.
31. Ibid., 169.
32. Ibid., 213.
10 "My Words Are Lovely"

Walter Brueggemann is another interpreter who has framed the rhetorical

situation of the Psalms in a fundamentally theological fashion. Building on the
work of Paul Ricoeur, Brueggemann proposed that the rhetorical situation of the
Psalms be understood in light of "the sequence of orientation-disorientation-
reorientation"33 This sequence is a fundamentally theological and rhetorical
framework in which to appropriate the Psalms. Note Brueggemann's thumbnail
descriptions of the situations of each segment of the sequence:
1. Orientation: "The mind-set and worldview of those who enjoy a serene
location of their lives.. ,"34
2. Disorientation:".. .a new distressful situation in which the old orienta-
tion has collapsed."35
3. Reorientation:".. .a quite new circumstance that speaks of newness (it
is not the old revived); surprise (there was no ground in the disorienta-
tion to anticipate it); and gift (it is not done by the lamenter)."36
It is worth stressing that Brueggemann proposed this typology as "a helpful way
to understand the use and function of the Psalms."37 In other words, Bruegge-
mann's typology is a rhetorical interpretation, since he is fundamentally inter-
ested in function. And Brueggemann's typology is fundamentally theological,
since in it he makes form-critical categories bow to a theological-experiential

c. Canonical Approaches. A third type of approach to framing the rhetorical

situation of the Psalms consists of those who are interested in the canonical
shape and shaping of the Psalter. In North America, scholars who have taken
this approach have included the likes of Gerald Wilson, Walter Brueggemann,
Nancy deClaisse-Walford, and many others; in Europe, scholars have included
Erich Zenger, Frank-Lothar Hossfeld, Matthias Millard, and many others.39

33. Walter Brueggemann, "The Psalms and the Life of Faith," in The Psalms and the Life of
Faith (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 3-32 (9, emphasis in original). See also his The Message of the
Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1985).
34. Brueggemann, "The Psalms and the Life of Faith," 10.
35. Ibid., 11.
36. Ibid., 14.
37. Ibid., 9.
38. Other scholars who approach the rhetorical situation of the Psalms in a largely theological
way include J. L. Mays, "The Lord Reigns," in The Lord Reigns: A Theological Handbook to the
Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994); William Brown, Seeing the Psalms: A Theology
of Metaphor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002); J. Clinton McCann, A Theological
Introduction to the Book of Psalms (Nashville: Abingdon, 1993); and Jerome Creach, Yahweh as
Refuge and the Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (JSOTSup 217; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press,
1996). I would also place James Limburg's work on the Psalms in this category: Psalms (Louisville:
Westminster John Knox, 2000); Psalms for Sojourners (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986).
39. Gerald H. Wilson was a pioneer in this research (The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter
[SBLDS 76; Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1985]); see too Nancy deClaisse*-Watford, Reading from
the Beginning: The Shaping of the Hebrew Psalter (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1997);
Matthias Millard, Die Komposition des Psalters: EinformgeschichtlicherAnsatz (FAT 9; Tubingen:
Mohr, 1994). See also J. Clinton McCann, ed., The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter (JSOTSup 159;
JACOBSON "The Altar of Certitude" 11

Evaluative summaries of this type of approach are available from Harry Nasuti
and David Howard.40 The approach has gained both momentum and acceptance
in recent years, although it has not been immune to criticism.41 The basic pre-
supposition of the canonical approach is that the only setting for the Psalms that
is available to interpreters is the canonical setting of the Psalter. The original
historical settings of the individual psalms are no longer accessible. The mean-
ing of individual psalms was "shaped" and refashioned by where and how it was
placed in the Psalter. As Brevard Childs wrote, "Then the question arises, did
the later refashioning do violence to the original meaning? One's answer
depends largely on how one construes 'doing violence.'"42 Childs concluded,
"the original meaning is no longer an adequate norm by which to test the new."43
Clearly, the strength of this approach to the setting of the Psalms is that it
requires far less speculation than, say, the various historical approaches require.
The setting of Ps 1, for example, as the first psalm in the Psalter and thus the
psalm that serves as the introduction of the Psalter is given and requires no
hypothetical reconstructions. The data are a given. But how to interpret these
data? On this, as in all matters involving more than one interpreter, there are
multiple views.
In the space allotted here, it is not feasible to review even the major propos-
als. A brief review of the proposals of Wilson and Brueggemann will suffice to
establish the contributions that this approach offers to conceiving of the rhetori-
cal situation of the Psalms.
For Wilson, the Psalter is in its final form "a book to be read rather than to be
performed', to be meditated over rather than to be recited from "M Wilson put
great stock in the fact that in the editorial shaping of the Psalter, the Psalms were
divided into five books. Wilson noted that in Books 1-3, royal psalms were
placed at the seams of the Psalter.45 He saw a significant disjunctive as occurring
between Book 3 and Book 4, most notably in the fact that the last psalm of Book
3, Ps 89, is the dark lament at the destruction of the temple and the end of the
Davidic monarchy. The story that Books 1-3 tell is the "celebration of YHWH'S
faithfulness to the [Davidic] covenant."46 Book 3 thus ends by naming a

Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993); K. Seybold and E. Zenger, eds., Neue Wege der
Psalmenforschung (Freiburg: Herder, 1994), and the bibliographies in these volumes.
40. See Harry Nasuti, Defining the Sacred Songs: Genre, Tradition and the Post-critical
Interpretation of the Psalms (JSOTSup 218; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1999), 163-208; David
M. Howard, Jr., "Recent Trends in Psalms Study," in The Face of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of
Contemporary Approaches (ed. David Baker and Bill Arnold; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 329-68.
41. See R. N. Whybray, Reading the Psalms as a Book (JSOTSup 222; Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press, 19%).
42. B. S. Childs, An Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress,
1979), 522.
43. Ibid.
44. Wilson, Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, 206-7 (emphasis in original).
45. Gerald H. Wilson, "The Use of Royal Psalms at the 'Seams' of the Hebrew Psalter," JSOT
35 (1986): 85-94.
46. Ibid., 88.
12 "My Words Are Lovely "

theological crisis: the crisis of the failure of the Davidic theology of pre-exilic
Jerusalem. Book 4 responds to this crisis by returning to the older theology of
the Mosaic covenant; this is apparent because Ps 90, the first psalm of Book 4, is
the only "Psalm of Moses" in the Psalter. There is thus a shift "away from hope
in.. .Davidic kingship back to.. .direct reliance on God's protection."47
Walter Brueggemann has construed the canonical shape of the Psalter differ-
ently than Wilson. According to Brueggemann, Ps 1 initiates the Psalter with a
call to "obedience" and Ps 150 culminates the Psalter in glad "praise."48 In
between these two poles, Brueggemann sees the key transitional moment in the
Psalter's shape as occurring between Books 2 and 3, rather than between Books
3 and 4. "In reading, singing, and praying the Psalter, the most important and
most interesting question is how to move from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150, from glad
duty to utter delight."49 In this movement, according to Brueggemann, Ps 73
provides the turning point, the hinge on which the Psalter turns.50 In Ps 73, a
psalmist describes how envy of the soft life of the arrogant had tempted him or
her almost to give up on God's hesed. But then the psalmist went to the temple
(v. 17) and there, in an experience of worship and praise, the psalmist "per-
ceived their end." Psalm 73 is the pivot of the Psalter, and v. 17 is the pivot of
Ps 73. "Clearly the culmination of Psalm 73 presents faith now prepared for the
lyrical self-abandonment of praise. This one psalm is a powerful paradigm for
the lyrical self-abandonment of praise."51
Without evaluating the conclusions of either Wilson or Brueggemann, we
should simply note how different the approach to interpreting the "setting" of the
Psalms is in their work as compared to the historical or theological approaches
named above. One can hardly imagine a Gunkel, Mowinckel, or Weiser constru-
ing the rhetorical setting of Pss 73, 89, or 90 under the terms that Wilson and
Brueggemann do. It should be evident that Wilson and Brueggemann are sing-
ing the Psalms in a completely different key than Gunkel or Mowinckel. Or, to
use the economical definition of rhetorical analysis offered above, because of the
rhetorical situation in which Wilson and Brueggemann imagine the Psalms, it is
clear that they have a vastly different conception of what the psalm texts are
trying to do.

3. Psalm 4: A Test Case in Construing

a Psalm's Rhetorical Setting
Part of the thesis of this essay is that how an interpreter construes the rhetorical
situation of a psalm will to a large extent determine the interpretation. In what

47. Ibid., 92.

48. Walter Brueggemann, "Bounded by Obedience and Praise: The Psalms as Canon," in his
The Psalms and the Life of Faith, 167-88; Walter Brueggemann and Patrick D. Miller, "Psalm 73 as
a Canonical Marker," JSOT12 (1996): 45-56.
49. Brueggemann, "Bounded by Obedience and Praise," 196.
50. Ibid., 204-10.
51. Ibid., 210.
JACOBSON "The Altar of Certitude" 13

follows, I use Ps 4 as a case study for how scholars actually construe a psalm's
setting and for how the judgments about setting control interpretive outcomes. I
have selected Ps 4 for this case study for two reasons; first, because there is a
large degree of consensus that Ps 4 is an individual prayer for help (otherwise
known as an individual lament); second, because there is a corresponding lack
of consensus as to its rhetorical setting. In this, it is representative of many
psalms. While it is true that for many psalms a rather clear life setting can be
posited (such is the case with the Festival Psalms, Pss 50, 81, and 95; although
even in these cases, the precise dynamics of what is happening in the festival are
unavailable), it is also true that for the majority of psalms, the rhetorical setting
is indeterminate.
When it comes to the task of interpreting a psalm (of constructing its
meaning), many scholars approach the psalm by first defining its setting in a
historical way. With regard to Ps 4, among modern commentators Mays,
Clifford, Broyles, Dahood, Kraus, Seybold, McCann, and Hossfeld and Zenger,
and others represent this approach (note that Craigie expressed hesitance
regarding this approach and Limburg resisted it).52 The method is circularthe
scholar investigates the psalm to determine the historical setting and then on the
basis of that judgment, the psalm is interpreted, difficult passages are explained,
and meaning is constructed. The promise of this approach was that once the
scholar had unearthed the interpretive bedrock of the historical setting, this
understanding could function as an Archimedean point upon which arguments
for truth could be leveraged. The problem, of course, is that different scholars
reconstruct different original settings. For most, such as Kraus and Clifford, the
psalm is the prayer of someone who has been falsely accused. But other views
have been proposed. For Dahood, it is a prayer for rain, for Eaton and others it is
a royal psalm, and for Broyles it is a "liturgical-instructional call to put away
false gods." The problem is that one proposed original setting can satisfactorily
explain certain particularities of the psalm, while a different proposed original
can better explain other particularitiesno proposal explains everything
completely satisfactorily.
Hie accompanying chart of Ps 4 (overleaf) illustrates two judgments about
the psalm's setting. The middle column illustrates the approach to the situation
of Ps 4 as one who has been falsely accused. The setting is assumed to be a
forensic worship setting in which the petitioner appeals to God. The speaker is
the falsely accused person who most likely has been declared innocent through a

52. J. L. Mays, Psalms (IBC; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994); Richard J. Clifford,
Psalms 1-72 (AOTC; Nashville: Abingdon, 2002); Craig C. Broyles, Psalms (NIBCOT 11;
Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1999); Mitchell Dahood, Psalms, vol. 1 (AB 16; Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 1966); Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary (CC; Minneapolis:
Augsburg, 1986); Klaus Seybold, Die Psalmen (HAT 15; Tubingen: Mohr, 1996); Frank-Lothar
Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Die Psalmen /(NEchtB; Wurzburg: Echter, 1993); J. Clinton McCann,
Jr., "The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections," in NIB, 4:639-1280;
Limburg, Psalms', Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50 (WBC; Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983).
Psalm 4 As the "prayer of one falsely accused" As a "liturgy of instruction to put away false gods "
:trb TlDTD nTMa rcflD1? Speaker = one falsely accused Speaker = a liturgist
Opponents = the accusers Opponents = worshipers of false gods
Setting = call to admit innocence Setting = admission to the temple (?)
pi* Tl^X 'aar ""Klpa 2 'MB = establish my innocence 'MT = typical call to hear a prayer
:'rf?Dn UQtfl 'Mn '*? namn 12ia 'pltf 'n*?K = God who pronounces innocence 'pl 'rf?K = a relational not a moral or forensic term
panxn HD^D"? 'TOD no'fi? tf'x 'aa 3 i'K ^a = the wealthy 'naa = my God (cf. PS 3:4)
^O ao 1pan pn 'TOD = my reputation
p'1 = baseless accusation p"1! = empty objects of worship
I1? Ton mm !f?Brro lini 4 lini = admit God's verdict 11?"n - prophetic call to obedience (cf. Hos 4:1)
tv'PK ^mpa Uft& mn"1 WSfr mn*1 = God has heard Psalmist's plea
DDaa^a K iiwinrrtin itn 5
:if?0 1D"n DDaD^D"1?!? DDaDtOQ"4?!? = pagan practices (Hos 7:14)
tnin''"1?^ iroai piannat inat 6 pT^'^nat = sacrifice as a means of acknowledging the pl^mf = proper worship of YHWH
innocence of another person in a celebration meal
taitD laXT-'D D'TDK D'ai 7 :aitD laxi''^ = the speech of others who have been :aifi T3KT"O = the speech of idolaters who look to false gods
:mm "pao -IT* la^jrnoa accused
"a^a nnnto nnna 8
:131 DBJlTrn D321 nrD D01Tm D3n = pagan fertility worship practices
(cf. Hos 7:14)
]tfW\ naDtfX lirr Dl^a 9 ]tfW naDJX = a reference to waiting for an oracle in
faa'tim naa1? lia1? mn*1 nmro answer to the prayer
JACOBSON "The Altar of Certitude" 15

forensic ceremony; the opponents are those who have accused the psalmist and
who refuse to acknowledge that God has declared the petitioner innocent. In this
context, the cry to "answer me" 033#) is said to mean "establish my innocence."
God is addressed as "God of my righteousness" Op"T2* VT^X), which means "God
who pronounces innocence." The enemies are understood as wealthy oppressors
(BTX *n is understood as a technical term for the wealthy based on Ps 49:3); they
are addressed and asked why they assail "my honor" (HISD), which is said to
mean "my reputation." They are said to seek p"H, which literally means "empty
things," but in this case is construed as "baseless accusations." The psalmist
calls on them to lin, which is said to mean "admit God's innocent verdict." The
psalmist's statement of faith that "The Lord has heard my crying" (JJQ2T HIPP),
is said to be the indication that the psalmist has already appealed to God and
has received the answer that he/she is innocent of guilty (presumably this
answer came through an oracle of salvation that was delivered by a priest).
Finally, the psalmist instructs the opponents to offer "sacrifices of righteous-
ness" (plJrTnt), which is understood as a technical call for a sacrifice as a
means of acknowledging the innocence of another person in a celebration meal.
The voice that is quoted in v. 6"O that we might see some good" (laXT'^D
21B)refers to petitioners who have been similarly falsely accused. The closing
vow of trust in which the psalmist confesses that he/she will "lie down and sleep
(]2TX1 naDIBX) in peace" refers to the psalmist awaiting a positive answer from
God, most likely again through a priest.
The third column illustrates the view of Broyles that this psalm is a liturgy of
instruction to put away false gods.53 Here, the speaker is a liturgical leader; the
opponents are worshipers of false gods; the setting is the temple, specifically a
liturgical entrance liturgy. The opening cry to "answer me" 0331?) is said to be a
plea for God to hear, typical of any prayer for help. The title for God, *p1X TT^X,
is understood as a relational term rather than a moral or forensic term. The term
"my honor" ('TOD) is said to mean "my God," as the term does in Ps 3:4. pn
does not refer to false accusations but to empty objects of worship. The call to
"know" is understood in light of its use in Hos 4:1, where it is a call to obey
typical of prophetic calls to obedience (lini; cf. Hos 4:1). This approach to the
psalm can make sense of the psalm's instruction to "ponder it on your beds, and
be silent" (DMD0Q"1?!?)in light again of Hosea, the reference to beds is
understood to indicate pagan rituals (cf. Hos 7:14). The instruction to pl^'TOt
refers to worship of the true Godthe Lord. The lament"who will show us
good" (SID laX'V'D)is said to be the speech of idolaters who look to false gods
for good. And finally, the joy that the psalmist experiences in God is contrasted
to the joy of pagan worshipers in their fertility rites: "more than when their grain
and wine abound" (WlTm ffiH; cf. Hos 7:14).
If each of these approaches to the psalm were to paraphrase the psalm, the
corresponding psalms might look like this:

53. Broyles, Psalms, 52-55.

16 "My Words Are Lovely"

Vindicate me when I call, Answer me when I call,

O God of my innocence! O God of my righteousness!
You gave me room when I was in distress. You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer.
How long, O wealthy accusers, shall my How long, you idolaters, shall my
reputation suffer reproach? God suffer shame?
How long will you love empty lies How long will you love false gods
and seek after untruths? And seek after their lies?
Acknowledge that the Lord has set Acknowledge and obey that the Lord has set
aside the faithful for himself. aside the faithful for himself.
The Lord has acknowledged by innocence. The Lord hears when I call to him.
When you are disturbed, do not sin. When you are disturbed do not sin
Ponder it on your beds and be silent. As you speak in your heart on your
pagan ritual bedsbe silent!
Offer sacrifices that acknowledge my Offer sacrifices to the true God!
And put your trust in the Lord's decision. And put your trust in the Lord.
There are many like me who say, There are many like you who say,
"O that we might see some good!" "O that we might see some good!"
Let the light of your face shine upon us Let the light of your face shine upon us
OLord. OLord.
You have put gladness in my heart You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine more than when pagan grain and wine
abound. rituals abound.
I will both lie down and sleep in peace I will lie down and sleep in peace.
while I await your action.
For you alone, O Lord, make me For you alone, O Lord, make me
lie down in safety. lie down in safety.

I wish to emphasize that both of these two views are tenable reconstructions of
possible historical settings for the psalm (there are also other tenable proposals).
However, in my view, neither proposal can be assured. Each reconstruction
makes sense of a part of the psalm very well. Each reconstruction must stretch at
certain points to make sense of the psalm. Each view must admit that some parts
of the psalm make little sense in its reconstruction. Craigie has concluded about
Ps 4, "The substance of the psalm is of such a general nature that various pro-
posals for a specific life setting have failed to carry conviction."54 Even Gersten-
berger noted, "Textual problems abound in w. 3,5,7, and the interpretation of
one word may alter genre classification" (and thus the reconstructed historical
For reasons of space, I have limited the illustration to two differing views,
both of which fall under what I above termed historical approaches to setting. But
from the above descriptions of differing theological and canonical approaches to

54. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, 79.

5 5. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 7,54.
JACOBSON "The Altar of Certitude" 17

setting, the reader should be able to imagine how the interpretive optionsand
thus the interpretive problemsmultiply exponentially once divergent theologi-
cally and canonically framed settings are entertained.
The point of this exercise, to repeat, is to illustrate that how an interpreter
imagines the psalm's rhetorical setting is in a dynamic relationship with how the
interpreter construes the meaning of Hebrew terms, metaphorical expression, and
the meaning of the entire psalm. Indeed, this brief illustration from Ps 4 could be
multiplied over many, many psalms. The point is not simply that scholars make
different judgments about particular psalms' settings. Rather, the point goes to
the multivalent nature of all languageincluding the language of the Psalms.
The words, idioms, and metaphors of the Psalms admit to different interpre-
tations, because those words, idioms, and phrases are illusively multivalent.
The biblical-interpretive enterprise in its most rigid incarnations responds to
this multivalency by attempting to nail down one of the possible meanings and
in so doing exclude the others. This attempt, however, must fail because the
language of Hebrew poetry will not go so softly into the night. The interpreter,
of course, longs to know which meaning spT2* TI^K or CTK *n or ''TOD or p*n or
um or IOZT mrr or p-rsr TQT or me larvra or janci rmwt was intended by the
original speaker of Ps 4. And I find it plausible to assume that the original
speaker did indeed intend specific meanings by these words and phrases. Those
precise meanings, however, are as lost to us as the Book of the Wars of YHWH.
There is no one rhetorical situation that we can pin on any given psalm and thus
there is one Archimedean point from which we can hang a universal inter-
pretation of a psalm. There is no cultic, historical, theological, or canonical altar
of rhetorical certitude.

4. Conclusion: The Altar of Certitude

and Rhetorical Analysis
This essay has attempted to describe, at least in outline form, the horns of a
dilemma. On the one hand, rhetorical analysis of the Psalms cannot proceed
without imagining the rhetorical situation of the psalm. To do so would be to do
engage in something other than rhetorical analysis. Merely describing the aes-
thetics of the Psalms is a worthy task, but it is not rhetorical analysis. On the
other hand, there are competing historical, theological, and canonical ways of
framing the rhetorical situation of any given psalm. The results of one's rhetori-
cal analysis will depend on how one frames the rhetorical situation. And no one
approach to framing the rhetorical situation can claim absolute primacy over
others approaches.56

56. Why not adopt a rhetorical approach that intentionally remains open to various readings?
That is, rather than argue that one particular way of conceiving the rhetorical situation is true, why
not allow for various settings, all the while confessing a degree of humilityadmitting that there is
much that we do not know and cannot know about how to read any given psalm? Why not adopt a
hermeneutical approach to the Psalms that will take joy in their stubborn and inscrutable multi-
18 "My Words Are Lovely "

So, how should the rhetorical analyst proceed?

Rhetorical analysts of the Psalms should pay attention to their own rhetorical
situations and aims and weigh those when considering how to imagine the
rhetorical situation of a psalm. That is, an essay, or commentary, or conference
paper, or critical note, or lecture, or sermon, or discussion in which a psalm is
analyzed rhetorically is itself an act of rhetoric. As such, it has its own rhetorical
purpose (what it is trying to do) and its own rhetorical situation (the "specific
condition or situation that prompts" it57). When trying to frame the rhetorical
situation of a psalm, the rhetorical situation of the analysis should be a part of
the conversation. As was argued above, for any given psalm, there might be
multiple plausible rhetorical, historical, theological, or canonical ways of con-
struing the setting. Because a rhetorical analysis is itself an act of rhetoric, and
because it is neither possible or desirable for an analyst to construct an analysis
of a psalm's rhetorical situation in isolation from her or his own rhetorical
situation, it seems both necessary and indeed desirable for an analyst to allow
her or his understanding of those two situations to inform each mutually. The
rhetorical situation that one imagines for a psalm is like the fixed point from
which the pendulumor in this case, the psalmswings. A pendulum can only
swing from one point at any given time. But the pendulum can be moved, can be
allowed to swing now from this point, now from that point. To allow that a
psalm might swing from another point does not mean that it would not be true
when swinging from another point. Nor is there only one universally "best
point." There may only be the best point for the pendulum at any given moment,
that is, for any given rhetorical situation.

"You see, Casaubon, even the Pendulum is a false prophet. You look at it, you think it's
the only fixed point in the cosmos, but if you detach it from the ceiling of the
Conservatoire and hang it in a brothel, it works just the same. And there are other
pendulums: there's one in New York, in the UN building, there's one in the science
museum in San Francisco, and God knows how many others. Wherever you put it,
Foucault's Pendulum swings from a motionless point while the earth rotates beneath it.
Every point of the universe is a fixed point: all you have to do is hang the Pendulum
from it.

"God is everywhere?"
"In a sense, yes. That's why the Pendulum disturbs me. It promises the infinite, but
where to put the infinite is left to me. So it isn't enough to worship the Pendulum;
you still have to make a decision, you have to find the best point for it. And yet..."

"And yet?"
"And yet... You're not taking me seriously by any chance, are you, Casaubon? No, I
can rest easy; we're not the type to take things seriously.. ,"58

57. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 7, 38.

58. Eco, Foucault 's Pendulum, 201.
Dale Patrick and Kenneth Diable

This study seeks to assess the impact of the first commandment on the lamenta-
tion of the individual Israelite.1 By first commandment we mean the prohibition
against recognizing any god but YHWH. At the very least, compliance with this
commandment would mean that all laments are addressed to YHWH. It probably
would modify the content and apologia of the lament as well.
We argue that the individual laments composed within the strictures of the
first commandment constituted a new, subtle kind of persuasion.2 Lamentation
was discourse calibrated to negotiate with the God who claimed exclusive divine
power. This is a transformation from accessing saving power diffused among a
plethora of divine beings to negotiating with the one source of all power. We
will discover that despite the centralization of power, Yahwism preserved great
freedom in the exchange between supplicant and YHWH.
The argument begins with the individual laments known to us from Akkadian
documents. We regard these laments as the background to those of the Psalter.
Whether the authors of biblical laments were acquainted with the Akkadian or
not, ancient Israel arose out of a polytheistic religious culture and was in compe-
tition with it during the time the Bible was written. The first commandment was
originally formulated for a people who were inclined to honor every god or
spirit who caught their attention.
Demonstrating that the Psalter conforms to the stipulation that Israelites
recognize YHWH alone is hardly necessary; all that is needed is to note those
who collected the Psalms recognized only this one deity. We are also interested
in the world constructed by the laments: it is one in which YHWH is sole ruler
and friend of the suppliant.
Our primary interest will be the complaints of the individual lament because
it is here that the suppliant spoke honestly and seriously of the troubles he or she

1. The reader of this article should know that a few years ago a conference of Old Testament
scholars was devoted to the influence of the first commandment/monotheism; the papers were
published under the title Em Gott allein? JHWH- Verehung undbiblischer Monotheismus im Kontext
der israelitischen und altorientalischen Religiowgeschichte (ed. Walter Dietrich and Martin
Klopfensetein; OBO 139; Gdttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994).
2. For an operative definition of rhetoric and discussion of how it can be used in biblical studies,
see Dale Patrick and Allen Scult, Rhetoric and Biblical Interpretation (Bible and Literature Series
26; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990), 11-27 and passim.
20 "My Words Are Lovely "

was having and how God had failed him or her. How did complaints and accu-
sations further the purpose of the lament, that is, persuade YHWH to intervene on
the supplicant's behalf? We will have to re-create the rhetorical strategies
employed in various individual laments.

Individual Laments in the Akkadian Tradition3

The following observations concern the individual prayers of lamentation in
Sumerian and Akkadian literature, namely, the so-called "letter prayers": sigu
(penitential prayer),4 ersahunga (lament to appease the heart), dingirsadibba
(incantations for appeasing an angry god), and sifila (in Sumerianprayer).5
These prayers usually have some type of accompanying ritual that goes with
them, and they are usually addressed to the supplicant's personal god and/or
goddess in the hope that the god or goddess will bring about change in the cir-
cumstances of the supplicant.
The letter prayers, sigu, ersahunga and dingirsadibba, as prayer types seem to ".. .focus
more upon the issues of sin and guilt than do...sw-j//a [sic] prayers which deal more
generally with broad ranging circumstances and threatening situations..."6
One of the common features of the Mesopotamian prayers is the intercession of one
deity before another deity on behalf of the petitioner. Not infrequently a suffering
person will pray to his or her personal god to intervene on his or her behalf to one of
the high gods... It may be, however, that the petitioner will appeal to a higher god to
intercede to the personal god. The trouble is perceived as the anger or withdrawal of the
personal, protecting deity, and so the sufferer appeals to a higher god to help restore
relation with the protecting deity. Sometimes the spouse of a deity is asked to intercede
with that deity, assuming, as in the court, that family members would have influence
with the ruling figure.7

Even the cosmic high gods and goddesses could take on the role of personal
deity in Mesopotamia as P. D. Miller suggests.8 Certainly, then, there was a
fluidity in the petitionary prayer life of the individual Mesopotamianespe-
cially how and to whom a Mesopotamian might pray.

3. See the dissertation by Kenneth Diable, "Persuading God: A Study in the Individual Lament
Psalms" (Drew University, 2007).
4. According to K. van der Toorn, Sin and Sanction in Israel and Mesopotamia: A Comparative
Study (Studia Semitica 22; Assen: Van Gorcum, 1985), 62, 119, sigu prayers were increasingly
limited to royal usage as opposed to usage by the common person.
5. It is rendered in Akkadian nis qatithe raising of the hand. This term seems to be the
generic term for prayer in a variety of circumstances.
6. Patrick D. Miller, They Cried to the Lord: The Form and Theology of Biblical Prayer
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 20.
7. Ibid., 22.
8. See also T. Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), 157,161. There is also an interesting discussion of the Great
City Gods and their function in the prayer life of Mesopotamians, in Wolfram von Soden, The
Ancient Orient: An Introduction to the Study of the Ancient Near East (trans. Donald G. Schley;
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994; German original 1985), 179-87.
PATRICK AND DIABLE Persuading the One and Only God 21

A form-critical analysis of the Mesopotamia!! prayers suggests that the

individual lament of the Hebrew Bible and the prayers from Mesopotamia
follow similar structural patterns, with both exhibiting a considerable amount of
diversity in ordering.9 Moreover, both the Hebrew and Mesopotamian prayers
seem to share, on the one hand, a commonality in their laments and complaints
with regard to describing the situation and commenting on and reacting to the
On the other hand, they differ greatly with regard to the cause of the circum-
stances. Many of the Mesopotamian prayers confess blatant sinfulness, neglected
ritual observances, and ignorance of duties and responsibilities to the deity.
Rarely in these prayers are there protests of innocence; in fact, there is generally
an acceptance of guilt on the part of the Mesopotamian. Quite the converse is
true of the individual lament in the Hebrew Bible; only rarely does the psalmist
admit to guilt; in fact, the general stance of the psalmist is that of an innocent
In a letter prayer of the scribe Sin-Shamuh, addressed to Enki, we are told a
hostile deity has brought upon him the troubles he is now suffering: "A hostile
deity has verily brought sin my way... "10 He has turned to Enki to adjudicate the
problem: "As you reach the place of heavy sin, I will surely [sing your] praises.
Release me at the mouth of the grave, [save me] at the head of my tomb!...
Have mercy on the letter which I have deposited before you." He even enlists
the aid of Damgalnunna, Enki's wife: "May she bring it [the letter] to you like
my mother, may she introduce my lament before you.. .";n moreover, he enlists
the aid of Asalalimnunna, the so-called son of the Abyss: "May he bring it [the
letter] to you like my father, may he introduce my lament before you. May he
recite my lamentation to you, may he introduce my lament before you."12
Though the pleas and wishes of the suppliant are much the same in form,
nothing of the nature of enlisting the help of other deities to change the circum-
stances can be found in the individual lament of the Hebrew Bible.
In an ersahunga to Marduk13 the suppliant comes directly to the high god
Marduk in order to seek forgiveness for neglecting the deity: "Absolve my guilt,
remit my punishment, clear me of confusion, free me of uncertainty..." Then
two unique elements, not ever found in individual lament in the Hebrew Bible,
appear in the prayer. First, the suppliant asks that Marduk return the suppliant to
the personal gods: "Commend me into the hands of my (personal) god and my
(personal) goddess for well-being and life..." Then, the supplicant seeks abso-
lution from a variety of deities:

9. See C. Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms (trans. Keith R. Crim and Richard
M. Soulen; Atlanta: John Knox, 1981; German original 1965), 36: address; praise; lament; petition;
vow of praise.
10. Miller, They Cried, 11.
11. Ibid., 12.
12. Ibid., 12-13.
13. Benjamin R. Foster, Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature. Vol. 2.
Mature, Late (Bethesda: CDL, 1993), 591-93.
22 "My Words Are Lovely "

O warrior Marduk, absolve my guilt, remit my guilt!

O great lady Eura-Sarpanitu [wife of Marduk], absolve my guilt,
O Nabu of the good name, absolve my guilt,
O great lady Tashmetu [wife of Nabu], absolve my guilt,
O warrior Nergal, absolve my guilt,
0 gods who dwell <in> Anu's <heaven>, absolve my guilt [variant: and
disperse it]!14

Apparently the suppliant is attempting to cover all bases in this prayer in the
event that Marduk does not listen and respond to the prayer. Obviously, the
Israelite had no such luxury in prayer.
K. van der Toorn records a sigu to a personal god:
1 cry sigu [to you, hear me my god]!
Relent my god, [let your heart return]!
Hear my [sorrowful] prayers!
[Dispel] the trouble that has come upon me!
[Accept] my sighs which I have heaved!...
Since the day that you, my lord, [have been angry with me],
you my god, and creator, have been irate [with me]
(and) turned my home [into a house of tears]...15

Though there is no reason given for the anger of the deity, it is clear that the
suppliant considers the fault not to be with the personal god, but solely with the
suppliant. This type of penitential plea for restoration of the relationship is quite
rare in the individual lament psalms of the Hebrew Bible, but certainly quite
prevalent in the prayers of Mesopotamia.
Finally, in a dingirsadibba to the goddess Ishtar16 a rather unique circum-
stance is addressed. The suppliant has offended Ishtar, the supplicant's personal
god and unknown goddess, and so, the suppliant comes to Ishtar to find solace,
consolation, and absolution: "Absolve my crime, misdeed, sin, and wrong
doing! Forget my sin, accept my plea, loose my fetters, set me free"!17 But the
suppliant doesn't stop with these pleas. The supplicant then asks for help dealing
with the personal god: "My god's face is turned some other place... I am attend-
ing you, my mistress, waiting for you, I implore you, absolve my debt"!18 And
finally, the suppliant begs for help with an unknown goddess as well as the
personal god once again: "Speak, that from your speaking the angry god be
reconciled, that the goddess who became furious relent!"19
In Israel no such options were left open to the petitioner. YHWH was the only
deity to whom prayer could be addressed. Even if YHWH was angry or appeared
unresponsive, there was no other court of appeal. The petitioner had to come to
YHWH to make a case.

14. Ibid., 592.

15. Van der Toorn, Sin and Sanction, 137.
16. Benjamin R. Foster, trans., From Distant Days: Myths, Tales, and Poetry from Ancient
Mesopotamia (Bethesda: CDL, 1995), 241-45.
17. Ibid., 244.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
PATRICK AND DIABLE Persuading the One and Only God 23

When a Mesopotamia!! experienced the abandonment of one deity, rarely did

the suppliant challenge that deity or complain about the deity's unresponsive-
ness. There were always other deities to address to seek help with the offended
deity. For the Mesopotamian, on the one hand, freedom in prayer life was the
latitude to explore various deities to meet the suppliant's needs, either through
the power of that deity or through that deity's intercession on behalf of the
suppliant. As we have seen above, a variety of deities can be invoked to help the
suppliant in time of need. By contrast, for the Israelite, freedom in prayer life
was the ability to challenge the deity and complain to the deity in such a way
that the petitioner could make a case before YHWH to change and respond
positively to the petitioner, even if YHWH was angry.

The Impact of the First Commandment

on the Lament of the Individual
We begin by identifying what we mean by first commandment and by the
individual lament. Then we can survey the Psalter to see whether the individual
laments comply with the first commandment and how the world envisioned in
the lament corresponds to the prohibition of recognizing other gods.
The first commandment gets its name for its position in the Ten Command-
ments (Exod 20:2-17; Deut 5:6-21): "You shall have no other gods before me"
(Exod 20:3; Deut 5:7). Some religious traditions subsume the prohibition of
idols under it, though they are separate utterances. However that may be, the
prohibition of images is not particularly relevant to our study. We are interested
in acts of worshipcrying to a deity for helpand how well they conformed to
the stricture that only YHWH is to be recognized. Exodus 34:10 formulates the
prohibition so that it is the act of worship that is specifically forbidden. Exodus
22:20 imposes the herem on anyone who sacrifices to another deity; 23:13 warns
against speaking of other gods; 23:32-33 prohibit friendly relations with
Canaanites and their deities. Deuteronomy 13 and 17:2-7 apply the prohibition
of recognizing other gods to various cases.
The preposition "before" in the commandment has often puzzled interpreters,
but it has borne the weight of "besides." Hosea 13:4b offers this construal: "You
know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior." The prohibition simply
rules out the recognition of any other deity, since no one but YHWH is a savior.
The individual lament, it should be stated, appeals to a deity for help in a time
of crisis or need. The request or supplication is an essential element. Biblical
lamentation usually has other elements as well: above all, the complaint or
lament, the address, confession of trust, and vow of praise. The individual who
speaks in an individual lament could be an official, even a king, but all adult
males, and probably females, could approach God for help. There are about 60
potential individual laments present in the Psalter.20 Whether these were recited
or simply consulted for models of prayer is unknown.

20. See n. 28 for a list of 40 individual laments. S. Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship
(trans. D. R. Ap-Thomas; 2 vols.; New York: Abingdon, 1962), 1:219-20, lists only five possibilities
24 "My Words Are Lovely "

Compliance with the first commandment would, at the very least, mean that
the supplicant who is experiencing a crisis would not appeal to any deity but
YHWH. The individual laments of the Psalter all meet that requirement: no deity
but YHWH (or Elohim) is addressed, though some of the ancient epithets of
Canaanite deities are used, for example, p^tf, "Most High" (Pss 7:18; 9:3; 57:3;
77:11), DTlD, "Exalted One" (Ps 56:3), and amp, "Holy One" (Ps 22:4).
The individual laments not only comply literally with the prohibition against
calling upon any god but YHWH, they construct a world in which YHWH alone is
to be reckoned with in a time of distress. No competitor even appears on the
horizon; not once in the individual laments of the Psalter is another deity
mentioned by name.
Not only do the supplicants not take recourse to another deity, they seldom
think of asserting their innocence. At most we have four references to the
possibility of such recourse (Pss 16:4; 31:7; 73:25; 121:1). Psalm 16:4 can be
construedthough the Hebrew is problematicas a repudiation of honoring
other gods. Psalm 31:7 speaks of "hating" idolaters; perhaps this is an indirect
protest of innocence, especially since the statement is paired with an affirmation
of the supplicant's trust in YHWH. Psalms 73:25 and 121:1 deny that there is any
other divine help besides YHWH; in neither case is the possible source of aid
named as a god, but that is perhaps implied.
These last two passages recall the affirmations of the incomparability of
YHWH. Such affirmations are found in a few individual laments, namely, Pss
18:32; 71:19; 77:14; 86:8-10. Psalms 77:13 and 86:8-10 actually ask, rhetori-
cally, whether any other deity is YHWH'S equal; such comparisons assume, at
least linguistically, that the others exist.21 Indeed, it has been known for some
time that the type of expression originated in polytheistic piety.22 Psalms 18:32
and 71:19, however, do not even mention the existence of possible competitors
to YHWH.
Quite frankly, it is surprising that supplicants did not assert their innocence of
apostasy or idolatry more often. One communal lament has a full-fledged oath of
All (his has come upon us
Though we have not forgotten you
Or been false to your covenant.
Our heart has not turned back,
Nor have our steps departed from your way,
That you should have broken us...

(Pss 22; 38; 39; 41; 88) with four questionable individual laments (Pss 102; 120; 141; 143). Most
scholars list between 30 and 40 psalms with considerable variation.
21. They are so formulated, however, that they do not strike the full-fledged monotheist as
a compromise to polytheism. Indeed, Ps 88:10 rather paradoxically asserts that YHWH is sole deity.
22. C. J. Labuschagne, The Incomparability ofYahweh in the Old Testament (Pretoria Oriental
Series 5; Leiden: Brill, 1966), 31-63,124-33.
PATRICK AND DIABLE Persuading the One and Only God 25

If we had forgotten the name of our God,

Or spread forth our hands to a strange god,
Would not God discover this?
For he knows the secrets of the heart.
Nay, for Your sake we are slain all day long... (Ps 44:17-22)23

The use of this oath of innocence clearly shows that the argument was available
if the authors of individual laments wanted to use it. Job's oath of clearance has
self-curses against worshipping the sun and moon (31:26-28); it is parallel to
trusting in money and success (31:24-25).
There is virtually no evidence in the individual laments of the Psalter that
another deity might be considered the cause of the supplicant's distress. Never is
another deity the subject of complaint nor is YHWH asked to deliver the suppli-
cant from another deity's power. In the world depicted in the laments, YHWH
alone wields divine power.24 It is YHWH alone who is addressed and rebuked for
"causing" the lamentable circumstances of the supplicanton account of wrath,
rejection, forgetting the supplicant, hiding of his face, and passivity.25
One might surmise that the Psalter's individual laments ascribe supernatural
power to non-beingthe power or realm variously named death (HID), Sheol,
and the Pit (*nn). In at least six psalms (Pss 6:5; 18:4-5 [individual recounting
praise]; 30:3, 9 [individual recounting praise]; 86:13; 88:3-5; and 103:4 [cf.
16:10; 69:15; 88:10-12; 143:7b]), non-being gives the impression of being an
independent power from which deliverance is requested. A close reading of
these passages, though, suggests that non-being does not take initiative; rather,
YHWH or the enemies deliver the supplicant over to its power. Moreover, we
should not overlook the fact that death is regarded as a natural condition of finite
life in most Old Testament contexts.26
We might expect the supplicant to charge his or her enemies with calling
upon other gods or idols in order to persuade YHWH to intervene to prove his
superiority. Communal laments do occasionally characterize enemies as wor-
shippers of other gods, for example, "Pour out Your anger on the nations that do
not know You, I and on the kingdoms that do not call upon Your name?* (Ps
79:6). Such a charge, however, is lacking in the individual laments of the

23. The translations here and elsewhere are RSV, occasionally modified by the authors.
24. Ps 58:2-3 may constitute a partial exception to this assertion. These verses blame unnamed
"gods" for ruling with wickedness and violence. This reading requires an emendation from O^X to
n^K. If this is the best reading, we have the rudiments of the idea that is more fully adumbrated in
Ps 82, a poem which dramatizes a judgment of the gods for their misrule. See A. Weiser, Psalms
(OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962). It might also be construed that the wicked, described in
w. 4-6, are the creation or subjects of these wicked gods; this sounds like the Devil.
25. An excellent account of these accusations is located in Craig C. Broyles, The Conflict of
Faith and Experience in the Psalms: A Form-Critical and Theological Study (JSOTSup 52; Shef-
field: JSOT, 1989), 61-80.
26. See J. Barr, The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality (Minneapolis: Fortress,
1993), 21-56.
26 "My Words Are Lovely"

Surprisingly, the enemies of the supplicant are frequently charged with

atheism or religious indifference (Pss 10:3-4,11,13; 12:5; 14:1 [=53:2], 28:5,
54:5; 55:20; 64:6-7; 73:11 [cf. 10:6; 36:2]).27 In place of YHWH, the enemies
rely upon their own power or the power of other humans (Pss 14:4 [=53:5];
52:9). They exhibit their attitude in their scoffing at the supplicant's reliance on
YHWH (Pss 3:3; 22:9; 42:4, 11 [cf. 69:8, 10; 71:11]). The citation of the
enemies' taunts regarding reliance on YHWH is just one of a number of ways the
supplicant makes his reliance known to YHWH. Among the ways is the recurring
image of YHWH as a "refuge" (Oin, nonQ).28 Within psalmnic piety, the ideal is
to rely upon God; the antithesis is to rely on anything or anyone less.
When we step back and consider the world this piety creates, we see that first
commandment has suffused the piety to such a degree that the personae who
inhabit it seldom consider alternative sources of supernatural aid. The alternative
to faith in YHWH was religious indifference, or practical atheism; in place of
YHWH was reliance upon oneself or other humans. The power opposed to YHWH
is human or creaturely, not a competing divinity.

Complaint in Individual Laments

Now we need to proceed to the role rhetoric plays in individual laments. The
individual Israelite has been isolated before the one and only God. His com-
munity may be supportive, but it is frequently experienced as hostile. In a time
of crisis, the supplicant must persuade YHWH to intervene to save him and
overturn his enemies. The role of request or supplication in such persuasion is
obvious, but how does complaint or lament persuade? The task of this section is
to answer that question.
In Sumerian and Akkadian laments, as we have seen above, the complaints
are directed to a supplicant's personal, guardian deity. When the supplicant
appeals to Marduk or one of the other "high" gods, the high god seems to func-
tion as an intercessor, taking much the same function as the supplicant's per-
sonal god. Seldom does the supplicant complain to the deity whose decision he
is seeking to get reversed.
From a history-of-religions point of view, YHWH incorporates both the
qualities of the high gods, like Marduk in Babylon, and the guardian deity of
each pious individual. Thus, he is intimately related to the supplicant, taking the
place of a guardian deity. Here we might note the apologetic statement in Deut
4:7: "For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as YHWH our God
is to us, whenever we call upon him?" At the same time, YHWH is Lord of
heaven and earth (Deut 10:14).

27. Actually, all of these passages are descriptions of the wicked. C. Westermann, "Struktur
und Geschiche der Klage im Alten Testament," ZA W66 (1954): 61-66, subsumes the wicked under
the concept of enemy. However, there is a reflective distance in this development, a probing after a
theological-psychological understanding of these "others."
28. Verb: Pss 5:12; 7:2; (11:1); 16:1; 25:20; 31:2, 20; (37:40); 57:2; 64:11, 71:1; (118:8,9);
141:8; (144:2); noun: Pss 14:6; 27:1; (28:8); 31:3, 5; (37:39); 52:9; 61:4; 62:8, 9; 71:7; (73:28);
(94:22); 142:6.
PATRICK AND DIABLE Persuading the One and Only God 27

The gods of polytheism may be arbitrary and tyrannical, but the very plurality
and competition among them gave their human subjects "freedom" for a variety
of responses. No one deity had the capacity to lay monopolistic claims on
worshippers. Exclusivistic Yahwism did claim that YHWH was the only power to
be reckoned with and all moral authority was his. There was no private space, no
room for maneuver, left the Yahwist.
The concentration of power and elimination of go-betweens could have
resulted in servile surrender to God, virtually a resignation to fate, but the
biblical laments show little inclination in that direction. Rather, broad nego-
tiating space was opened up in the address and complaint. The Israelite suppli-
cant had immediate access to YHWH and the freedom to persuade him.

The Address
The individual laments plunge into the existential situation without the niceties
one would expect of persons confronting the ultimate power over their life. Of
the approximately 60 individual laments in the Psalter, more than 40 begin with
a complaint or forthright initial request.29
Here are some thoroughly typical addresses:
Give ear to my words, YHWH,
give heed to my groaning. (Ps 5:1)
YHWH, rebuke me not in Your anger,
nor chasten me in Your wrath. (Ps 6:1)
YHWH my God, in You do I take refuge:
save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me. (Ps 7:1)

Such familiarity and bluntness, utterly different from the way a supplicant
would approach a king or magistrate, betokens an awesome trust in YHWH'S
accessibility. This accessibility, we believe, compensated for the loss of poly-
theistic freedom.

Accusation Against God

Complaints about one's suffering and about the assaults of enemies are common
to ancient Near Eastern and biblical laments. Although biblical psalms may
heighten their intensity somewhat, the difference is at most a matter of degree.
Complaints directed to the deity seem to be another matter. The freedom to
protest to YHWH about YHWH'S exercise of power was essential to the main-
tenance of freedom. Since YHWH had a monopoly on divine power, freedom
depended upon the right of the subject to object to its seemingly arbitrary

29. Complaint Pss 3:1 (3dpers.); 6:2 (2dpers.); 13:2 (2dpers.); 22:2-3 (2dpers.); 38:2-3 (2d
pers.); 77:2-3 (Istpers.); 88:2-3 (Istpers.); 109:1 (2dpere.); 120:1 (Istpers.); 130:1 (Istpers.);
142:1-2 (1st pers.). First person complaint is often a preface to an initial request
Initial Request: 4:2; 5:2; 7:2; 10:1; 12:2; 16:1; 17:1; 25:1-2; 26:1; 28:1-2; 31:1-3 (19); 40:12;
43:1; 51:3; 54:3-^; 55:2-3a; 56:2; 57:2; 59:2-3; 61:2; 64:2-3; 69:2; 70:2; 71:1-2; 86:1-2; 102:2-3;
140:2; 141:1; 143:1.
Less direct introductions: Pss (9); 27; 35:12; 36; (37); 39; 41; 42; 52; 62; 63; (73); 131.
28 "My Words Are Lovely"

Complaints against God (2d pers. complaints) range in their bluntness and
intensity from accusing questions and assertions to negative requests:
How long, YHWH, will You forget me? forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me? (13:2)
Do not hide Your face from me!
Do not turn aside Your servant in angerYou are my helper.
Do not cast me off or forsake meGod of my salvation. (27:9)
You have put me in the deep pit...
upon me Your wrath bears down
and with wave after wave You afflict me. (88:7-8)

In You I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless! (MliSb)30

The fact that YHWH was known to be responsible for the supplicant's distress
heightened the poignancy of the situation. YHWH has been the supplicant's
refuge and strength, helper and deliverer, teacher and guide, and suddenly he
seemed to be acting out of character. The freedom to express their feelings
provided psychological release from a potentially tyrannical situation.
What is the rhetoric of the accusation directed against God? Obviously it is
expressive of emotion, a way of clearing the air, so to speak, similar to a fight in
a personal relationship. But emotional outbursts are not indulged in if one
considers them to be dangerous or counterproductive. Worshippers all through
history have experienced crises and despair, yet rarely have they indulged them-
selves in accusations against God. The fact that ancient Israel did so suggests a
particular dynamic in their piety, one that expected YHWH to be sensitive to the
just cause of the supplicant, to be subject to emotions like pity and guilt,
defending his honor but not overly concerned with his majesty.
The late Tikva Frymer-Kensky points out a particular rhetorical ploy among
biblical personae that may also be operative here:
In petition, the petitioner's goal is to use powers of persuasion in order to induce
someone with sufficient authority to do what the petitioner requests...biblical argu-
mentboth male and femalebegins in a striking way. The opening salvo of a biblical
petition is designed to catch the other party off guard. The matriarchs successfully
primed their husbands to take action by portraying themselves as wronged or miser-
able. .. Such guilt-producing rhetorical tactics are very effective... (They) remind us of
the classic ploys of the exaggeratedly portrayed and much mocked "Jewish mother."
Nevertheless, the guilt-provoking introduction is a standard form of biblical rhetoric,
and was not the particular property of women. Moses presents the classic paradigm of
such tactics.31

30. The first of these examples is an accusing question, a rhetorical question that charges YHWH
with abandonment. The second couches the charge in a request: you have been spurning mecease
and desist! The third is a direct assertion of a negative fact; it is the harshest form of complaint, and
leaves least room for negotiation. The final example tucks a mild negative request away in a con-
fession of trust.
31. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical
Transformation of Pagan Myth (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1992), 130-31.
PATRICK AND DIABLE Persuading the One and Only God 29

Although the complaints against God in the individual laments are not always
introductions, they do seem designed to "catch (God) off guard" and put him on
the defensive. If the great intercessors of Israel's history were known for the
tactic,32 the common people would most likely imitate them.
Not all individual laments of the Psalter have complaints against God; indeed,
only about a third do.33 That fact might lead one to question how important com-
plaint against God is for understanding the individual lament within the Psalter.
In view of their daring character, however, it is amazing that so many laments
accuse God. The frequency suggests that the entire Yahwistic community was
aware of the possibility and legitimacy of approaching God in this manner. If
the stakes were high enough, the people had little reticence.34

Accusation Against Enemies

Alongside the accusation leveled against God are complaints and denunciation
of enemies. Psalm 13:2c, for example, reads: "How long shall my enemy be
exalted over me?" In Ps 22, others are "mocking" the supplicant (v. 7), "encom-
passing" him (v. 12), even attacking him (w. 16-17) and dividing his clothes
(v. 18). Psalm 35 describes the enemies as betrayers:
For without cause they hid their net for me;
Without cause they dug a [pit] for my life. (v. 7)

The supplicant claims to have befriended those who are now his accusers
(w. 12-14); they have returned evil for good, and take pleasure in his fall
(w. 11, 15-16).
The rhetorical strategy of the complaint against enemies is to enlist God's
support against members of the supplicant's community who have harmed him
or who rejoice over his fall. Sometimes they are family members and friends
who seem to be waiting for the supplicant to die.
Occasionally the enemies are "blamed" on God, e.g., "You have caused lover
and friend to shun me" (Ps 88:18).35 In this case, the complaint about enemies is
subordinated to the accusation against God. In most cases, though, the suppli-
cant is seeking to arouse pity in God for his or her plight, to recruit God to his
side in a conflict, to find someone with whom to share her feelings in a situation
of isolation and loneliness.
A few psalms address the enemies as though they were present with the
supplicant, for example, Ps 52:1-3. This could be a way to put the enemies in a
position of opposition to him and his God.

32. Ibid., 132.

33. Verses of individual lament psalms with complaint against God: Pss 6:2, 4; 10:1 (12b);
13:2; 22:2-3, 12, 16c, 20a; (25:2); 27:9; 28:lb, 3; (31:2b, 18); 35:17a, 22; 38:2-3, 22; 39:(5?),
11-12, 13c (14?); 40:12a; 42:10a (= 43:2b); 55:2b; 69:18; 71:9, 12a, 18; 77:8-11; 88:7-9, 15,
17-19; 102:11,24-25; 141:8b.
34. The communal lament employs the tactic with even greater frequency and intensity.
35. Compare Job 19:13-22.
30 "My Words Are Lovely "

First Person Lament

Here we have in mind statements with the supplicant as subject of the sentence.
The supplicant is suffering, ridiculed, unheeded by God.
My soul is cast down within me. (Ps 42:6)
My heart is in anguish within me,
The terrors of death have fallen upon me. (Ps 55:4)
I am weary with crying; my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for God. (Ps 69:3)
Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters... (Ps 69:20)

The primary purpose of these cries is probably to evoke divine sympathy.

Certainly as readers, we are drawn to feel sympathy toward the supplicant
portrayed in the lament
It should be noted that such "self-pity" can be an implicit accusation against
God. When the complaint concerns going unheeded by God, this implication is

Confession of Sin
Psalm 51 is an interesting offshoot of the individual lament. It is seemingly
devoted entirely to confessing sinfulness and pleading for purification and the
power to resist the supplicant's recalcitrant will. Near the end, the psalmist
states that God takes no delight in sacrifices, but does accept a person with a
"broken and contrite heart" That pretty much explains the psalm: the person
seeks to be, by what he says, the sort of person who is justified in God's eyes.
This ideal of an inward, penitential piety is also stated in an oracle of God in
Ps 50:8-15. Psalm 130 exemplifies it: the "depth" from which the psalmist
speaks is despair over sin, and the trust that he recommends is in the forgiving
character of God. We find the same inward piety approved by the LORD in Isa
66:1-5. This strategy, which may represent the program of a particular "party"
born in the exile, seeks God's acceptance by exemplifying humility and com-

Rhetorical Truth
Some readers may be inclined to regard rhetoric or persuasive speech as mani-
pulation. Those who view all discourse as an expression and defense of power
classify techniques as modes of coercion, rather than the moral alternative to
violence. If persuasion is most powerful when it can build on the knowledge and
wisdom of the audience, then manipulation is not natural or essential to its
practice. According to Aristotle, the discovery of the means of persuasion is the
uncovering of truth, so that truth will ultimately win the argument with false-

36. Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.3.55; See also Allen Scult and Dale Patrick, "Rhetoric and Ideology: A
Debate Within Biblical Scholarship Over the Import of Persuasion,'* in The Rhetorical Interpretation
PATRICK AND DIABLE Persuading the One and Only God 31

What does this general consideration of rhetoric have to do with prayer? In

principle, prayer should be the purest form of persuasive speech. The supplicant
seeks to persuade God to intervene on his or her behalf, and since the auditor
knows all the relevant facts and possesses unsurpassable wisdom, the speaker
cannot win by manipulation.
Of course, in practice humans try to "deceive God as one does a human" (Job
13:9b). One of the functions of the Psalter is to provide prayers which speak
honestly and forthrightly about the supplicant's condition and mood within the
bounds of propriety and the community's implicit theology. In other words, the
Psalms provide the supplicant with truthful words to speak with God.37
The individual laments of the Psalter represent a "window" in the history of
piety. The type of exchange we find in the individual laments could take place
only in a circumscribed period of time within the life of Israel. Polytheists could
not pray like this because the deity addressed and entreated wasn't necessarily
the one with the power to decide their fate. Only when persuasion was directed
toward the God of power could prayer take on truth-discovering power. The
matter over which the supplicant prays is not settled; prayer can change the
outcome. God's holiness and majesty does not exclude access. The supplicant
can seek to persuade God to do the right thing. Once the prayer is delivered the
supplicant can hand the decision over to God: "Thy will be done."
Unfortunately, there was an assault on the individual lament inside the Bible.
This assault comes from Job's companions.38 If God is the determinate will in all
events, and he is perfectly righteous, how can the supplicant with a gripe about
how things are going justify his complaint? The supplicant is invariably at fault
when things go wrong, or God is "correcting" a person for his or her good. All
humans, after all, are sinful, so the only proper way to go before God is to
acknowledge one's unworthiness and God's rightness in all decisions.39
Job stands up for his right to lament and complainto accuse God of injus-
tice and oppression, to accuse his so-called friends of betrayal, and to hope
against hope that his case will be straightened out, after his death if need be.40
Job pits his experience of evil and sense of persecution against the friends'
doctrines. The LORD approves of Job's speaking and condemns his friends'
(42:7). One can see, though, that doctrine and a certain servile piety endangered
the lament and could well silence it. In fact, the history of the church proved
nearly fatal to it.

of Scripture: Essays from the 1996 Malibu Conference (ed. Stanley E. Porter and Dennis L. Stamps;
JSNTSup 180; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 63-83.
37. Of course, an actual supplicant could speak a psalm in pretense, for example, one that
insists on innocence when the person is guilty. The assumption would have to be that God will
refuse to hear such a prayer, as the prophets say in response to Israel's prayers, e.g., Jer 7:16-20;
38. The interpretation of Job that we are offering here is found in Dale Patrick, "Job's Address
of God,"Z4FF91 (1979): 268-82.
39. All these arguments are found in Job 4-5.
40. Job 14:14-17; 16:18-21; 19:23-27.
32 "My Words Are Lovely"

In the early church, the writings preserved on the practice of prayer41 project
a world in which the transactions of the individual lament are no longer
appropriate or even relevant. First, God's rule is so absolute that prayer cannot
change divine decrees. Moreover, the supplicant's concern for daily necessities
and the outcome of human events is outside serious prayer; the reference to
"daily bread" in the Lord's Prayer is not to the food we need to live, but "super-
substantial" power for the inner self.42 The act of prayer is on a par with contem-
plation; both are spiritual disciplines for the development of the one who prays.
If there is any precedent in the Psalter for this type of prayer, it would be those
exemplifying the piety of inwardness (Pss 51; 130).
It is doubtful that the lay church ever went to the extreme of the monastic
communities, but it does seem that prayer in the church has been understood to
be a practice of piety, not a genuine transaction with God. One could actually
survey the history of the church to discover when and where the individual
lament remained a transaction. Walter Brueggemann speaks of the "costly loss
of lament."43 We agree, it was costly, and it cannot be easily resurrected: it
requires a particular blend of culture and theology in which the discovery of
modes of persuasion are discovery of truth.

41. E.g., by Origen, Evagrius, and Cassian; for a discussion of Patristic views of prayer, consult
the work Christian Spirituality I (ed. B. McGinn, J. Meyerdorff, and J. Leclercq; New York:
Crossroad, 1988).
42. John Cassian, Conference # 9, Par. 21; the quote was taken from Western Asceticism (trans.
Owen Chadwick; The Library of Christian Classics; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1958), 224-25, plus
n. 49. The footnote is a marvelous demonstration of scholarly erudition.
43. Note the work by William S. Morrow, Protest Against God: The Eclipse of a Biblical
Tradition (Sheffield: Phoenix, 2006); we did not discover this work until we finished the present
LeAnn Snow Flesher

A. Introductory Comments
In 1934 J. Begrich published a seminal work entitled "Das priesterliche Heils-
orakel."1 In this work, Begrich suggested that certain lament psalms exhibit a
notable "sudden change of mood" where the psalmist quickly moves from
lament to statements of confidence, trust, or praise after having received an
"oracle of rescue (salvation)" from an attending priest. Begrich's work was to
affect the way lament psalms were to be read for decades to come. To this day,
Psalms scholars have tended to emphasize what they understand to be evidences
of a "sudden change of mood" in the psalmist. This has caused them to view the
central action of the psalm as one that moves the heart of the psalmist rather
than that of God.
In the same year (1934) Begrich published Herman Gunkel's Einleitung in
die Psalmen, having completed the volume according to his mentor's wishes
after his death. In this volume Gunkel has stated: "The aim of the lament is to
get something from Jahve. In order not to miss this goal, the petitioner endeav-
ors to move the heart of his God with everything he says."2 In short, what
Gunkel was proposing is the lament psalms as rhetoric in the classic sense of the
word, that is, persuasive speech.
Although recent scholarly work on the lament psalms has focused on the
appeals of the psalmist that attempt to persuade God to act (e.g. Boyles and
Lambert), contemporary scholars continue to understand the shift in language
from lament to confidence and eventually to praise as a "sudden change of
mood."3 Broyles has come closest to reading the entire lament from a rhetorical
perspective when he concluded that even the element of praise serves to advance
the charges being brought against God4 in the complaint psalms. Yet, he has

1. Joachim Begrich, "Das Priesterliche Heilsorakel," ZAW52 (1934): 81-92.

2. Hermann Gunkel, Einleitung in die Psalmen (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1933;
repr. 1975), 231 (page reference is to reprint edition).
3. See, for example, McCann, Craven, Craigie, Allen, Pleins, and Broyles.
4. Craig C. Broyles, The Conflict of Faith and Experience in the Psalms: A Form-Critical and
Theological Study (JSOTSup 52; Sheffield: JSOT, 1989), 42-46, 51-53.
34 "My Words Are Lovely "

simultaneously concluded that the "assurance of being heard" depicts God's

response to the psalmist's appeal and therefore cannot be counted as a constitu-
ent part of that appeal.5
It has been noted by Claus Westermann that the most constant element to
be found in the laments is the petition.6 Erhard Gerstenberger has understood
elements of reproach and complaint as serving together with the petition to
remove a situation of want.7 Add to this Craig C. Broyles' suggestion that "even
the element of praise serves to advance the charges being brought against God"8
and the question arises, "why must we resort to a hypothetical priestly oracle of
salvation, or some psychological shift within the psalmist, to explain a sudden
change from complaint (and lament) to confidence, trust or praise?" Is it possi-
ble that statements of confidence/trust and vows to praise also serve to advance
the overall rhetoric of the psalm? Is it possible that these elements also serve to
support the petition that is being addressed to God?

B. History of the Research

The questions stated above point to a fundamental consideration concerning
what might be termed "the central action" of the lament psalms. If the aim of
these texts is, in fact, as Gunkel has suggested, "to get something from Jahve,"
then these prayers are an endeavor to move the heart of God not the psalmist.
Thorkild Jacobsen has introduced his argument for the development of what he
has labeled personal religion in the second millennium with quotes from Pss 25
and 38.9 He has also shown how appeals found in these psalms compare with
those coming from Egypt and Mesopotamia, as examples of strategies for calling
upon a deity for aid in escaping affliction.10 David Lambert has noted the lament
prayers are an attempt to assuage the anger of God, so that it will be turned away
and replaced by pity.* * On the other hand, Begrich, and later Westermann,12 have
asserted, upon comparison with the Babylonian laments, the evidence of an
oracle of salvation. Others have suggested alternative theories such as psycho-
logical interpretation, cultic actualization, and an emphasis on God as Divine

5. Ibid., 48.
6. Claus Westermann, Das Loben Gottes in den Psalmen (Gfittingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
1961), 55. There is, however, no explicit petition in Ps 88.
7. Eihard S. Gerstenberger, Der bittende mensch (WMANT 51; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neu-
kirchener, 1980), 51-53.
8. Broyles, Conflict of Faith, 44.
9. Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History ofMesopotamian Religion (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), 147-48.
10. Ibid., 150-64.
11. David Lambert, "Reconsidering the 'Penitence' in 'Penitential Prayer,'" (paper presented
at the annual meeting of the national Society of Biblical Literature, Philadelphia, Pa., 20 November
2005), 12.
12. Claus Westermann, Isaiah 40-66: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969).
FLESHER Rapid Change of Mood 35

These perspectives stand in contrast to one another on one essential point, the
central action of the psalm. Are the laments evidence of attempts to change the
heart of God, or are they evidence of a shift in mood on the part of the psalmist?
If the former is true then we cannot understand the move from lament to state-
ments of confidence, trust, or vows to praise as a response to a hypothetical
priestly oracle of salvation, or some inner psychological shift.

"The Rapid Change of Mood" in the Psalms

There are four primary theories for understanding the "change of mood" in the
Psalms: (1) the giving of a priestly oracle as the motivation for the rapid change
of mood; (2) the psychological interpretation; (3) the rapid change of mood as
an effect produced by a cultic actualization of Heilsgeschichte', (4) the impetus
of Holy War Faith as a motivation of the rapid change of mood.
The first of these purported by Begrich (1934), but adopted from F. Kiichler
(1918) and Gunkel (1931), is supported by evidences that fall into six major
categories: (1) the explicit presence of oracles from God found in the psalms
(e.g. Pss 12:5; 60:6-8/7108:7-9; 132); (2) allusions to oracles from God found
in the psalms (e.g. Pss 83; 140); (3) a request for an oracle from God found in
Ps 35:3, (4) statements of confidence that God has heard the prayers of the
psalmist (e.g. Pss 6:9; 22:22b; 28:6); (5) evidences of oracles given in response
to prayers throughout the Old Testament canon (e.g. Lam 3:55-57; Isa 41:8-
13;13 Joel 2:19-22; Gen 15:1-6); (6) parallels with ancient Near Eastern texts
(e.g. first in a series of oracles to king Esarhaddon, ANET 605; ludlul bel
nemeqi^ ANET 596-600).
The second, psychological interpretation, explains the rapid change of mood
as an inward process that occurs in the mind of the petitioner during prayer. This
theory, held by Heiler, suggests the words of the prayer are not formulaic, but a
spontaneous creation, that evidences an ambivalence between fear and hope. He
has noted nine common components to this spontaneous outpouring of the soul
that he calls "prophetic prayer": complaint and question; petition; means of per-
suasion (reference to God's previous act of salvation, reference to a particular
piety, and assault on God); confession of sinfulness; trust; resignation; thanks-
giving; praise; yearning and vision.15
The theory of Cultic Actualization of Heilsgeschichte is in many ways a
combination of the two theories already mentioned in that it supposes a personal
experience through the recital of the Heilsgeschichte tradition in a cultic act.
Several modern scholars, such as Weiser, Mowinckel, Cross, and Westermann
have adhered to this theory with varying differences. For example, Westermann

13. Miller has suggested the statements "do not fear/be afraid" which are found in Isa 41:10
probably reflect some form of prayer to God as evidenced by comparisons with salvation oracles
found in ANET. See Patrick D. Miller, Jr., They Cried to the Lord: The Form and Theology of
Biblical Prayer (Minneapolis: fortress, 1994), 153.
14. A good English translation of ludlul bel nemeqi would be "I will praise the lord of wisdom."
15. S. Heiler, Prayer: A Study in the History and Psychology of Religion (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1958), 236-63.
36 "My Words Are Lovely "

believed contra the other three that the cultic experience was no more than an
oral recital, while Weiser, Mowinckel, and Cross supported the idea of a cultic
drama.16 For the latter, the shift in mood is not thought to come as a result of
prayer, but through the experience of reenacting God's saving acts of the past.
Finally, in 1985 a dissertation entitled The Rapid Change of Mood in the
Lament Psalms was published by Ee Kon Kim.17 In this work, Kim demon-
strated how each of the three theories presented is inadequate. He then offered a
fresh alternative. After noting an emphasis on God as Divine Warrior in the
lament psalms and a summary of recent works on Yahweh Holy War theory, he
concluded that the shift of mood from despair to confidence in the lament
psalms is rooted in holy war ideology. In other words, the rapid change of mood
is best accounted for in the context of faith in God as warrior and deliverer from
Israel's foes. While some find his well-argued thesis convincing,18 others find
Kim still has not sufficiently answered the question of what in fact triggers the
Space does not permit a thorough analysis of each of the four theories out-
lined above. Suffice it to say that, while there is no scholarly agreement on any
one theory, the majority have incorporated Begrich's suggestion of a priestly
oracle of salvation into their analyses of the psalms. Consequently, the remainder
of this article will be spent engaging this widely accepted theory.

The Priestly Oracle as impetus for the Rapid Change of Mood

Indeed, there are evidences of oracles of salvation given through a mediator to
the people in response to their prayers throughout the Old Testament. In fact, the
biblical references listed above provide a clear indication that such activity did
take place in Israelite cultic history. At the same time, comparisons of these
biblical texts with other ancient Near Eastern texts reveal many parallels in
language, style, and content. It may also be said with certainty that oracles20
from God do appear in psalms texts in both an explicit and implicit manner. The
psalmist does request to hear an oracle from God in Ps 35:3 and Pss 6:9; 22:22b,
and 28:6 do contain statements of confidence that God has heard the prayers of
the psalmist. In other words, each of the six major categories of evidences listed
above is affirmed.

16. Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), 223-28;
A. Weiser, The Psalms (OIL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 43. See also Sigmund Mowinckel,
The Psalms in Israel's Worship, vol. 1 (trans. D. R. Ap-Thomas; New York: Abingdon, 1962), 106-
15, and Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion
of Israel (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), 91-111.
17. Ee Kon Kim, The Rapid Change of Mood in the Lament Psalms (Seoul: Korea Theological
Study Institute, 1985).
18. See J. Gerald Janzen, Review of Ee Kon Kim, The Rapid Change of Mood in the Lament
Psalms, Theology Today 43 (1986): 464.
19. Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Review of Ee Kon Kim, The Rapid Change of Mood in the Lament
Psalms, Interpretation 41 (1987): 88-89.
20. The word oracle is being used in this context to mean any communication or message from
God to humanity regardless of the date and time in which it was given.
FLESHER Rapid Change of Mood 37

However, what is not affirmed is the traditional interpretation of the data

based on certain pre-understandings as well as a methodology limited to the
determination of the historicity and Sitz im Leben of any given biblical text/
tradition. Also critical to the conversation are the differences between biblical
and ancient Near Eastern laments, as well as attention to the literary/rhetorical
effects constituted by these differences.
If Israel adopted the language, style, and content of the oracles of salvation
found in varying ancient Near Eastern texts for their own writings, as exempli-
fied in Lam 3:55-57; Isa 41; Joel 2, and Gen 15:1-6 in a relatively direct
manner, doesn't it stand to reason that the absence of certain components (as
well as the presence of others) in the psalms of lament has some significance? In
other words, isn't it feasible to suppose that the differences may reflect a crea-
tive adaptation,21 for example, a change in genre and/or function?
For example, Miller has noted similarities between the structures of the
Mesopotamian literary text ludlul bel nemeqi and biblical prayers:
The text (ludlul bel nemeqi) as a whole recounts the move from lament to oracle to
praise in much the same way as the biblical structure of prayer, moving from prayer to
oracle to praise and thanksgiving.22

While this statement is essentially correct, it seeks to focus on the similarities at

the neglect of the differences. For example: one major difference between the
Mesopotamian lament ludlul bel nemeqi and the laments of the psalms is the
lack of outright petition in the former. The only statement related to petition is
found in line 91 of tablet IV:
I persisted in supplication and prayer before them.. ,23

While this statement is a description of petition, it is not petition in its own right.
In fact the entire lament is best characterized as narratological. It is a description
of the flow from lament to oracle to praisean entire episode, of which the

21. Any discussion on literary influence between cultures must be directed by a well-defined
methodology based on established criteria. In his recent work on the communal laments, Bouzard
has provided a critical survey of pertinent scholarship in this arena and sought to articulate a satis-
factory comparative methodology. In this overview he has carefully outlined the pitfalls of the polar
extremes found in "parallelomania" and the insistence on Israel's unique literary genius. In the end
Bouzard has opted for a model, building upon W. C. Gwaltney's comparative work between the
laments of Mesopotamia and the book of Lamentations, mat focuses on opportunities for cultural
contactespecially with regards to temporalityand similarities in content, form, and genre. Most
significant to Bouzard's study is the work done on the contrastive elements, for it is here that the
battle of dependency is fought, since many scholars reject the idea of literary dependence on the
basis of the absence of significant motifs and understand the correspondences to be the result of
generic relatedness at best. Bouzard has sought to comprehend these differences while acknowledg-
ing possible/probable literary dependencies by introducing the idea of creative adaptation. For a
thorough discussion of this concept, see Walter C. Bouzard, We Have Heard With Our Ears, O God:
Sources of the Communal Laments in the Psalms (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997), 38-51.
22. Patrick D. Miller, Jr., They Cried to the LORD: The Form and Theology of Biblical Prayer
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 149.
23. See ANET, 600; translation is by Lambert.
38 "My Words Are Lovely "

conclusion has already been experienced. In contrast, the laments of the MT

psalms are rhetorical as the varying form-critical elements work together to
support and promote the petition for God to deliver the psalmist (and/or the
whole of Israel) from adversity.

C. A Socio-rhetorical Analysis of Select Lament Psalms

R. J. Tournay has devoted four chapters to a review of oracles in the psalms in
his work on the psalms as prophetic liturgy.24 In these chapters he broadly
categorizes oracles as explicit, implicit, or messianic. Since it is not possible to
discuss the numerous psalms addressed by Tourney in one article, a sampling
has been selected based upon the inclusion of negative petitions within the
content of the psalm. This criterion has been selected due to the nature of the
negative petition as a more subtle form of the complaint against God intended to
ward off impending doom. As such, psalms that include negative petitions often
have a sense of immediacy to them that should prove interesting for a study of
the so-called "rapid change of mood."25 Using this criterion, seven psalms have
been selected for study and are categorized as listed in Table 1 below.
Table 1

Worshiper Confident of an Answer 6; 22; 28

Explicit Oracles 13226
Allusions to Past Oracles 83; 140
Request for an Oracle 35

1. Worshipper Confident of an Answer. There are three laments that fit this
category (Pss 6; 22; 28). In two of these psalms the psalmist has clearly stated
that God has heard the psalmist's pleadings:
Depart from me all you workers of evil,
for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. (6:8)

Blessed be the LORD,

for he has heard the sound of my pleadings. (28:6)27

24. Raymond Jacques Tournay, Seeing and Hearing God With the Psalms: The Prophetic
Liturgy of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (JSOTSup 118; Sheffield: JSOT, 1991). Tournay's work
on the "oracular psalms" appears in Chapters 9-12 of this volume.
25. Westermann found that the dominant form for complaint against God in the individual
laments shifted from accusatory questions to subtly muted negative petitions, e.g., "Do not be
exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever" (64:8; Praise and Lament in the
Psalms, 181-87). The negative petition, while more subtle than accusatory questions, is in itself
accusatory in that it functions to ward off impending doom.
26. Pss 12 and 60 are typically noted as psalms with explicit oracles from the Lord followed
by statements of confidence (the criteria for the "Rapid Change of Mood"). While this shift is
seemingly present in these psalms, neither psalm ends as expected with statements of praise and/or
anticipation of deliverance. Ps 12 ends with an emphasis on the presence and dominance of the
wicked (v. 8 English), and Ps 60 with complaint and petition (w. 9-12 English).
27. All scripture quotes used in this article are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise stated.
FLESHER Rapid Change of Mood 39

In the third, Ps 22, the language changes mid-verse from that of petition to
acknowledgment of deliverance:
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. (22:21)

This is followed by the declaration in v. 24:

He did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

Most scholars interpret these statements as evidence that the psalmist has
received a priestly oracle of salvation and consequently concludes the psalm
with affirmations of confidence and trust in the LORD. However, when compared
with the evidences that have been ascertained from ancient Near Eastern texts as
well as other canonical texts there are some significant differences that must be
Miller has established five characteristic features of the oracle of salvation
that appear in both canonical and ancient Near Eastern texts:
1. Divine speech is couched as a direct personal address to the
one praying.
2. Typically some intimation of the petitioner's lament is present in God's
word of response.
3. The heart of the oracle of salvation is the simple assurance "Do not
4. The one praying is then given one of two reasons (sometimes both) for
not being afraid:
a. an expression that God is turning to the person and assurance that
the relationship continues, "I am with you."
b. a verbal sentence telling of God's intentions to deliver, "I will
help you."
5. Sometimes the oracle of salvation will elaborate the ways of helping in
the future tense.29
A thorough reading of the three psalms under study (Pss 6; 22; 28) reveals none
of the five features found in Miller's list. In other words, there is no actual
evidence of an oracle of salvation in these psalmsonly statements in the third
person that "the LORD has heard...." This makes these laments unique from the
other canonical texts (Lam 3:55-57; Isa 41:8-13; Joel 2:19-22; Gen 15:1-6)
that contain examples of the characteristic features of an oracle of salvation.
Thus, it might be concluded that the genre found in Pss 6,22, and 28 is unique
from that found in the prophetic and narrative examples of prayer that seemingly
include an oracle of salvation from God.

28. It is worm noting that me phrase "Do not fear," named the heart of the oracle of salvation
by Miller, is almost always present in the oracles of salvation of the ancient Near Eastern prayers,
but is never found in die canonical psalms.
29. Miller, They Cried to the LORD, 142^6.
40 "My Words Are Lovely "

For example, a close comparison with Lam 3:5557 raises some significant
questions. These verses from Lamentations appear to be a summary of a past cry
for a hearing that has already been answered by an oracle from the LORD.
Having successfully attained a hearing from God, evidenced by the presence of
the key oracular phrase "do not fear" (v. 57), the supplicant then goes on to
recount all that God has seen and to petition for actual deliverance. In contrast, a
quoted oracle from God never appears in Pss 6, 22, and 28. This causes one to
ponder; does the psalmist receive a priestly oracle that God has heard the cry in
the midst of the prayer and, consequently, proceed to statements of trust and
confidence? Or, is the psalmist using a known format, mainly, incorporating
statements of trust and confidence as a rhetorical device, to motivate God to lean
an ear and take action?
I would like to explore the latter possibility by noting how these affirmations
that God has heard work rhetorically in relationship to other form-critical
elements to create a motivation for God to fulfill the petition(s) for deliverance.
From a form-critical and literary perspective the statements "the LORD has
heard" found in Pss 6 and 28 may be best understood as statements of confi-
dence. As statements of confidence they are written as if they are a concrete
description of "what is" while in reality they reflect "what should be." In this
mode they stand in contrast to the statement of "what should not be" found in
the negative petitions of Pss 6 and 28.30 The contrast created by these two form-
critical elements (confidence and negative petition) serves to build the rhetoric
in preparation for the petition for deliverance.
For example, Ps 28 opens with a negative petition for God to not be silent.
An analysis of the Hebrew verb tznn reveals that the verb is to be associated
with action,31 so that a petition that God not be silent is in reality a petition that
God act on behalf of the psalmist. It is interesting to note that this initial nega-
tive petition is then followed by a cry for a hearing in v. 2, which is the reverse
of the expected ordering. Westermann has commented on the typical structure
noting the two-part petitions, first for God to hear and then to act.32
Miller has noted the presence of a response to these two types (the cry for a
hearing and the petition for action) of petitions in the oracle of salvation (see
item #4ab in Miller's list above). Consequently, scholars claim the statement
"the LORD has heard..." in this psalm as evidence that an oracle has been given,
thus providing an answer to the cry for a hearing and certainty for a positive
answer to the petition that God would act. As a result, the closing statements of

30. The phrases "what is," "what should be," and "what should not be" will be used throughout
this article to represent the rhetorically charged implicit nuances of meaning created by the
juxtaposition of typical form-critical elements, allusions, and metaphors.
31. God's silence makes reference to inactivity, so that when the psalmist petitions "do not be
silent" (Bnn), what is really being petitioned against is God's inactivity in the current distress. The
context reveals that the psalmist is not hoping for an audible response, but for an act of deliverance
from enemies. See LeAnn Flesher, "The Rhetorical Use of the Negative Petition in the Lament
Psalms" (Ph.D. diss., Drew University, 1999), 49-50.
32. Westermann, Praise and Lament, 52.
FLESHER Rapid Change of Mood 41

confidence are thought to signify a "sudden change in mood" on the part of the
psalmist. However, the structure of Ps 28 does not lend itself to such an analysis
for several reasons.
First, the psalm opens and closes with petitionary activity, and the opening
negative petitions form an inclusio with the closing affirmative petitions for
salvation. Next we find the cry for a hearing (v. 2) mirrored by the statements of
trust found in vv. 6-8 (tfGB!?QB) and finally the main petitionary section made
up of elongated and juxtaposed negative and affirmative petitions (w. 3-4;
followed by a motive clause in v. 5). This structure (see Diagram 1) could be
thought of as chiastic and pointing toward the middle petitionary action.

Diagram 1

Opening Negative Petition against Silence (v. 1)

Cry for a Hearing (v. 2)
Elongated Negative Petition (v. 3)
Elongated Affirmative Petitions (v. 4)
Statements of Trust (w. 6-8)
Closing Affirmative Petition for Salvation (v. 9)

All of the form-critical elements work together rhetorically to point to the

petitions for deliverance and judgment (actually a call for reversal; w. 3-4). The
fact that the prayer does not end with statements of confidence/trust or a vow
to praise, but rather a petition for salvation creates a rhetorical flow that forces
the reader/hearer back to the beginning. The result is a never-ending loop of
petition. In P. 28 the statement ".. .the LORD has heard..." leads to statements
of confidence and praise, but concludes with petitions that God should act.
Consequently, in Ps 28 the so-called "certainty of a hearing" can be understood
as an adaptation of an oracular convention used rhetorically to build a case for
God to act. For if God has indeed heard the prayers of the psalmist, then con-
vention suggests God will act.33 Therefore, an affirmation of trust that God has
heard serves to prompt the hearer (God) to move toward the logical next step
to bring deliverance.

2. Explicit Oracles. Psalm 132 contains more than one oracle from God, each of
which is quoted from a previous time (or writing), used here in conjunction with
quotes from David as well as other form-critical elements to build the appeal for
God to inhabit the temple at Zion. The first oracle (w. 1 lc-12) can be con-
sidered a variation of the prophecy of Nathan from 2 Sam 7. The second
(w. 14-18) is woven together from several texts throughout the Old Testa-
ment.34 Each of these oracles is preceded by an introductory statement in the

33. Walter Brueggemann has traced a cry and response pattern throughout the Hebrew Bible, in
which Israel cries out to God in a time of distress and God responds with an act of deliverance
("From Hurt to Joy, From Death to Life," in The Psalms and the Life of Faith [ed. Patrick D. Miller,
Jr.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995], 67-83).
34. Tournay (Seeing and Hearing God, 209) has noted the following correspondences between
this text and other canonical writings: Election of Zion (2 Chr 6:6); allusions to messianic texts on
42 "My Words Are Lovely"

perfect that suggests completed action and could, therefore, establish these
oracles as quotes from a previous time.35 A quote from David and the people is
introduced in similar fashion in w. 3-5 and 7. Sandwiched between these two
sets of quotes are three verses of petition (w. 8-10). The rhetorical flow moves
from a reminder of David's promise to find a dwelling place for the LORD to the
people's cohortative declaration (promise) to go to and worship in that same
place. Upon the heels of these promises come the petitions for God to go and to
dwell; to allow the people to worship; and not to shun David. Following these
petitions God's own promises to David and for Zion are quoted.
Somewhat unique to this psalm is the sequencing of the oracles with regard to
the statement of confidence found in v. 11. Miller has noted the response of
confidence and trust typically follows the word of assurance even when the
actual deliverance is yet to take place.36 However, in this psalm the statement of
confidence comes before the oracles (v. lib) and is tied topically (niET^X and
SIBK'X1?) to the preceding negative petition (v. 10). The ordering of these ele-
ments is crucial, for if, as Miller has suggested, confidence "typically" comes
after the reception of an assurance from God then the statement of confidence in
v. 1 Ib is either out of place or functioning in a totally different manner. In this
psalm it would seem the latter is the case.
The negative petition in v. 10 concludes the petitionary section and is a plea
that God not turn away the face of the anointed one, David. Verse 11 begins
with a factual statement "the LORD swore to David a sure oath," followed by a
statement of confidence "from which the LORD will not turn back." The negative
petition of v. 10 forms an inclusio with the opening petition found in v. 1 and
the combination serves to remind the petitionee of God's obligation to David
because of the covenant. In v. 11 God's obligation to David is explicitly stated
as God is reminded of the promises made. A further emphasis is placed upon
these promises when the psalmist states in confidence that God will not turn
back from these promises. An astute reader/listener will not miss the repetition
of the Hebrew word 318. The psalmist pleads "do not turn" and soon after states
with confidence "God will not turn." Both statements are futuristic. The first
points to "what should not be" and the second to "what should be" (idealized).
The two elements, negative petition and confidence, work together clearly to
state (or define) "what should be."37 The fundamental request of the petitionary
section is that God would dwell in the temple. Why should God grant this
request? Because of the promises made (w. 11 and 12) and because of the

the "shoot" (Zech 3:8; 6:12; Isa 11:1; Jer 33:15; 2 Sam 23:5); the final strophe is close to the final
strophe of the Song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:10).
35. While the use of the perfect is often thought of in this way, one must bear in mind that this
is poetry and that such conventions are frequently broken in Hebrew verse. Consequently, the use of
the perfect in this context does not necessitate a translation in the past tense; however, it does make
good sense.
36. Miller, They Cried to the LORD, 154.
37. Note the dual use of the expression "what should be/' The first use represents an expression
of the psalmist's idealized worldview, me second an expression of immediacy.
FLESHER Rapid Change of Mood 43

obligation to David (w. 1-5,10). These two elements represent two sides of the
same coin; two rays of light concentrated on the same point, creating an inten-
sity and heightening of meaning not possible to achieve with one ray alone.
While some would suggest that w. 11-18 of this psalm represent oracles
spoken by a priest as some ritualistic act in a renewal festival,38 a rhetorical
reading of the text notes literary connections between petition and confidence
(w. 10 and 11) and the manner in which the latter supports the former rhetori-
cally to heighten the overall request. The quotation of the former oracles in
w. 1 lc-12 gives definition to the oath mentioned in v. 1 la and consequently
serves to emphasize the statement of confidence (v. 1 Ib) in that it specifically
describes the things from which God will not turn back. Whether Ps 132 is read
from the printed page or observed as an antiphonally ritualistic performance, the
analysis remains the same.

3. Allusions to Past Oracles. Tournay has listed Pss 83 and 140 as two that
contain implicit oracles.39 Psalm 140 will be discussed as an example of a lament
that contains an allusion to past oracles. Some have suggested the "I Know"
(PI17T) in v. 13 implies the occurrence of an oracle of salvation.40 However,
according to Tournay, w. 13 and 14 should be read as the psalmist's allusion to
revelations received by the ancient prophets concerning the judgment and
condemnation of the wicked and salvation for Israel.41 If this is true, and there is
no evidence in this psalm to suggest the contrary, then the psalmist concludes
this petitionary lament by speaking confidently of God's judgment for the
wicked and salvation for the righteous. These two categories, the righteous and
the wicked, have been well established throughout this psalm as has the psalm-
ist's claim to be among the righteous.
The psalmist's allusions to former oracles in this closing statement of con-
fidence serve to legitimate the preceding petitions for deliverance and impre-
cations as they establish "what should be" (ideally), which stands in contrast to
"what should not be" as stated in the negative petitions (w. 8 and 11). In v. 12
the voice shifts from the speaker directly addressing God to speaking about the
acts of God. In this verse, the psalmist states with confidence the knowledge that
God maintains the cause of the needy and executes justice for the poor. In a
moment, through this shift of voice and by alluding to past oracles of salvation,
the psalmist has equated the current plight, the current state of the righteous with
the poor and needy, and has thus reminded God of promises made to protect and
restore the same.42 Such a shift serves to obligate God to act on behalf of the
psalmist as well as take action against the wicked.

38. Weiser, The Psalms, 781-82; Kraus, Psalms 60-150,475-79; Allen, Psalms 101-150,205,
to name a few.
39. While Touinay (Seeing and Hearing God, 188) uses the term "implicit oracles" one might
also view these as allusions, which is the preferred rendering for this author.
40. So Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 523.
41. Tournay, Seeing and Hearing God, 194.
42. See, for example: Isa 11:4; 14:30; 32:7; 41:17; Jer8:21,22; 9:1; Amos 2:7; 4:1; 5:11; 8:4,
44 "My Words Are Lovely "

Rhetorically, the iterative use of petition in w. 1-11 creates an escalating

sense of urgency,43 embedded with complaints against the enemies (cf. w. 2-3,
4b-5,9a), that culminates with the reminder that God has promised to take care
of the poor and needy. The urgency of the requests) coupled with God's obli-
gation to fulfill past promises creates a powerful appeal for God to turn with pity
toward the psalmist and bring deliverance. The two elements, the allusion to
former oracle(s) (v. 12) and statement of confidence (v. 13), taken together,
serve clearly to define "what should be" (present action) as they point to the
petitions for deliverance.

4. Request for an Oracle. Psalm 35 provides the example for this category. In
this psalm we have perhaps the clearest case for reference to the oracle of
salvation used rhetorically to build an argument that will motivate God to act on
behalf of the psalmist. The psalm opens somewhat atypically with a cry for
vindication (w. 1-6) when one would anticipate a cry for a hearing. At the close
of v. 3 the psalmist petitions for an oracle from the LORD. This comes on the
heels of two synonymous cola rhetorically charged with war imagery. God is
being called to take hold of shield and buckler, draw spear and javelin, and "say
to my soul, 'I am your salvation.'" Both verses (2-3) contain images and lan-
guage that reminds one of the Old Babylonian oracles44 with one major differ-
encein Ps 35 the psalmist petitions that God would give an oracle, but an
oracle is never evidenced in the Psalm. Later in the same psalm the psalmist
petitions "Do not be silent" (2nn), "do not be far from me," "wake up!" (w. 22-
23). Thus, the request for an oracle need not be understood as a request for
actual words, rather for action. The psalmist is not concerned about perform-
ance, or proper order, but launches into the petition from the start, "Contend, O
Lord with those who contend with me...." The so called "request for an oracle"
is as metaphorical as the language to take up arms. What the psalmist wants is
action and vindication. The metaphors are rhetorical devices used to stir up
(wake up) a sleeping God to action.

D. Conclusions
Fundamentally, the pre-understanding of the interpreter affects the inter-
pretation. If the laments are understood as dialogical prayers intended to change
the heart of the petitioner, then perhaps the move from petition to oracle to
confidence can be interpreted as a sudden change of mood. But, if the laments
are understood as petitionary prayers that seek to move the heart of God, then
another logical interpretation arises. In Ps 28 no explicit oracle was found, yet
the psalmist states with confidence that God has heard, and thus prompts God

43. Note the majority of this psalm is petitionseven of the first eleven verses are primarily
made up of petition (cf. w. 1,4,6,8,9b, 10,11). The psalm begins with a petition for deliverance,
which is rather unusual and serves to emphasize the same as well as create a strong sense of urgency.
44. See, for example, "An Old Babylonian Oracle from Uruk," translated by Robert D. Biggs
(ANET, 604-5).
FLESHER Rapid Change of Mood 45

to bring deliverance. In the case of Ps 132 the statement of confidence (v. 11)
comes before the oracle and the oracle itself is quoted from another canonical
text. Simultaneously, the statement of confidence is topically connected to the
preceding negative petition and the two work together rhetorically to obligate
God to not turn back from the covenant relationship with David. In Ps 140 the
psalmist's confidence in blessings for the righteous juxtaposed to an allusion to
past oracles concerning God's justice for the needy serves to emphasize "what
should be," and therefore obligates God to bring resolution. Finally, in Ps 35 the
request for an oracle is used metaphorically in conjunction with an urgent call to
arms to awaken a sleeping God to action.
For years Begrich's conclusion that the shift from complaint and lament to
statements of confidence and praise evidenced proclamation of an oracle of
salvation from God parallel to those found in ancient Near Eastern prayers has
dominated the horizon of psalms studies. In recent years, scholars have noted
rhetorical constructions within the psalms, but have still maintained the rapid
change of mood as Begrich suggested. This article is an attempt to chip away the
dual nature of such interpretation. For the combination of these two approaches,
rhetorical constructions combined with a rapid change of mood, suggests two
central actions in the psalmsthe attempt to shift the heart of God from anger to
pity and a psychological shift for the psalmist. While there are many similarities
between the psalms of lament and the ancient Near Eastern prayers that exhibit
oracles of salvation from the deity, there are also many significant differences.
The absence of explicit present tense oracles (with the exception of Ps 12), the
absence of the formulaic language (e.g. "do not fear"), and the numerous peti-
tions found in the canonical psalms (that are not found in the ancient Near
Eastern prayers) suggests a need to reassess the data. The rhetorical analyses
presented in this article are an attempt at reinterpretation. While the form-criti-
cal, traditio-historical work, and theological work done by Begrich, Mowinckel,
Westermann, Kim, and others has provided us a wealth of religio-cultural data
that informs our reading of the psalms, it is the more recent rhetorical work that
gets at the central action of the laments. For it is through this prayer form that
the psalmist endeavors to move the heart of God with everything that is said.
J. Kenneth Kuntz

Firmly anchored in the human imagination, figuration in Biblical Hebrew poetry

does much to ensure its elevated style. Owing to their skillful use of simile and
metaphor, Israel's poets captured many insights about God, humanity, and the
world that would have been nearly impossible to express had they settled upon a
prosaic mode of discourse.
Imagistic language enables psalmic verse to be vivid and profound as it repre-
sents the full sweep of human existence. It appeals directly to the senses, shun-
ning abstraction in favor of the concrete. Luis Alonso Schokel aptly observes
that "images are the glory, perhaps the essence of poetry, the enchanted planet
of the imagination, a limitless galaxy, ever alive and ever changing."1 Moreover,
Adele Berlin states that, "metaphor and simile are hallmarks of poetry in all
languages,"2 and endorses Northrop Frye's invitation that we "consider the
possibility that metaphor is not an incidental ornament of biblical language, but
one of its controlling modes of thought."3 So abundant is figuration in psalmic
poetry that Patrick D. Miller, Jr. once observed, "One cannot read a Psalm
without being literally struck figuratively."4
Here I will explore uses of animal imagery in the Hebrew Psalter.5 Such
imagery is evident in 43 canonical psalms.6 Spanning lowly worm and menacing

1. Luis Alonso Schekel, A Manual of Hebrew Poetics (trans. Adrian Graffy; Subsidia Biblica
11; Rome: Biblical Institute, 1988), 95. This same sentence heads William P. Brown's discussion of
"The Iconic Metaphor" (pp. 3-8) in his perceptive and accessible study, Seeing the Psalms: A
Theology of Metaphor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002).
2. Adele Berlin, "Introduction to Hebrew Poetry," NIB 4:301-15 (311).
3. Northrop Frye, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (London: Routledge & Kegan
Paul, 1984), 54; cited by Adele Berlin, "On Reading Biblical Poetry: The Role of Metaphor,"in
Congress Volume: Cambridge 1995 (ed. J. A. Emerton; VTSup 66; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 25-36 (27).
4. Patrick D. Miller, Jr., "Meter, Parallelism, and Tropes: The Search for Poetic Style,"/S0J28
(1984): 99-106 (104).
5. In selecting this topic I have fallen under the spell of Tova Forti's richly annotated essay,
"Animal Images in me Didactic Rhetoric of the Book of Proverbs," Biblica 77 (1996): 48-63, which
investigates the sage's use of faunal imagery as a superb instrument for intensifying the instructional
impact of his poetry.
6. Animal imagery is present in Pss 3; 7; 10; 11; 17; 18; 22; 27; 29; 32; 35; 36; 39; 42^*3; 44;
49; 50; 55; 57; 58; 59; 61; 63; 73; 74; 76; 77; 78; 79; 80; 91; 92; 95; 100; 102; 103; 107; 109; 114;
118; 119; 124; and 140.
KUNTZ Growling Dogs and Thirsty Deer 47

lion, 35 different Hebrew nouns denote various animal species. Three questions
will be addressed: (1) What is most characteristic of artful similes and meta-
phors and what is their impact on human discourse? (2) What nouns does the
Hebrew Psalter enlist in its animal imagery and which Gattungen welcome
them? (3) What entities do faunal similes and metaphors portray in the psalms?

Imagistic Language: Characteristic Features and Impact

In his seminal study, The Philosophy of Rhetoric, I. A. Richards argues that our
command of metaphor is an integral factor in our human development as we
acquire the power of speech. He names metaphor "the omnipresent principle of
language." Struck by the ubiquity of metaphor in everyday conversation, he
submits, "We cannot get through three sentences of ordinary fluid discourse
without it."7 Far from being an ornamental rhetorical device that foists itself on
ordinary speech, metaphor erupts in conventional discourse that is generated by
"the way we think."8 When a colleague in a committee meeting quips, "Now
we're on the same page" when at her retirement party a professor says, "In my
autumn years I'm still learning," and when a British poet crafts a verse play in
which the major protagonist ruminates, "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor
player / that struts and frets his hour upon the stage," metaphors are born.
We scarcely consider the first example referring to "page" as metaphorical
since its image is commonplace in today's English. Failing to evoke surprise,
this common metaphor escapes recognition. Having passed into everyday usage,
it warrants the label lexicalized or dead metaphor. The second example men-
tioning "autumn years" is a conventionalized metaphor. Although its usage in
ordinary discourse is rather rare, it does not entail new coinage. But as it sets
forth Macbeth's response to news about the queen's death, the last example
("Life's but a walking shadow")9 is a creative metaphor that pre-empts our
Since the imagistic language that concerns us consists of metaphor and
simile, how shall these two agents of figuration be understood? Deriving from
the Greek noun jjeTccvpopa, meaning "transference," metaphor activates a trans-
fer of a term from its original reference to another that is reasonably analogous.
Because metaphors are grounded in the claim that two things are concomitantly
identical and different, at first blush they may be discounted as absurd. Yet since
we are ever engaged in a quest for resemblances, we know better.10 As we try to
make sense of our world, we are often confronted with the realization that we
are not always well served by language that is solely literal. In her attempt to

7. I. A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (New York: Oxford University Press, 1936), 92.
8. Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religions Language (Phila-
delphia: Fortress, 1992), 16.
9. William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, lines 23-24.
10. Kathleen Morris submits that "human beings are essentially storytelling bipeds" (Amazing
Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith [New York: Riverhead, 1998], 3). I am compelled to add that they are
resemblance-oriented bipeds as well.
48 "My Words Are Lovely"

explain why we resort to metaphor in our discourse, Sallie McFague submits,

"We do not know how to think or talk about 'this,' so we use 'that' as a way of
saying something about it."11
Richards asserts that metaphor is less a displacement of words than it is
"a borrowing between and intercourse of thought, a transaction between con-
texts."12 Mindful that metaphorical thought manifests itself in metaphorical
language, he introduces two technical terms, the tenor and the vehicle, to facili-
tate our proper delineation of the two ideas that England's celebrated lexico-
grapher, Samuel Johnson, long ago identified in his Dictionary (1755) as the
dual members of any metaphor. The tenor, says Richards, is "the underlying
idea or principal subject which the vehicle or figure means."13 He notes that in
many metaphorical expressions, "the co-presence of the vehicle and tenor results
in a meaning (to be clearly distinguished from the tenor) which is not attainable
without their interaction."14 Consequently, the tenor of the metaphor is decidedly
What transpires in our minds when we encounter a metaphor? In addressing
this question, Don R. Swanson postulates that since a metaphor is a statement of
error, it plays havoc with our expectations as listeners or readers. Hence, it
propels us "to detect error and to take corrective action." Yet we do not repudi-
ate the metaphor as if it were a patent falsehood. On the contrary, we embrace it
as a figure of speech that refers to something else that we might wish to observe.
As we take notice of metaphors, we find ourselves swept up "on a quest for the
underlying truth" and "launched into a creative, inventive pleasurable act."15
Inasmuch as a good metaphor thrives on the artful juxtaposition of similarity
and dissimilarity, the vehicle that answers to its tenor must be chosen carefully.
Katie Wales asserts that "tenor and vehicle must have some similarity in order
for the analogy to seem appropriate, yet enough difference, in dramatic and
decisive metaphors, for the analogy to seem striking or fresh."16 When tenor and
vehicle are embedded in a comparison of low correspondence, the emerging
metaphor is likely to be fresh, dramatic, even shocking. The metaphor that
entails a comparison of high correspondence has the advantage of being easily
understood. Yet it has the disadvantage of quickly joining the ranks of lexical-
ized metaphors, although subsequently it might be resuscitated by a skillful poet
who draws it into a memorable context. A metaphor that juxtaposes a relatively
accessible tenor with a relatively inaccessible vehicle may frustrate an impatient
beholder eager to establish the motivation driving the analogy. Yet it is precisely

11. McFague, Metaphorical Theology, 15.

12. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric, 94.
13. Ibid., 97.
14. Ibid., 100.
15. Don R. Swanson, "Toward a Psychology of Metaphor," in On Metaphor (ed. Sheldon
Sacks; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 161-64 (162). This perspective on metaphor
reinforces McFague's assertion that "metaphor finds the vein of similarity in the midst of dissimi-
lars" (Metaphorical Theology, 17).
16. Katie Wales, A Dictionary ofStylistics (2d ed.; SLL; Essex: Pearson Education, 2001), 250.
KUNTZ Growling Dogs and Thirsty Deer 49

that sort of metaphor that befriends poets who are prone to enlist a discourse of
defamiliarization that reconceptualizes some aspect of human experience and, in
so doing, pre-empts our attention.
One other word of clarification about metaphors deserves mention. Some
metaphors are direct while others are implied.11 The phrase, "That man's a pit
bull," is a direct metaphor that specifies both tenor and vehicle. The implied
metaphor specifies the vehicle but not the tenor. The latter must be inferred from
the context. In the metaphorical statement, "In yesterday's seminar, Professor
Weiss hung his ill-prepared student out to dry," the tenorthe act of inflicting
severe criticismis implied by the cultural context among academics. Many
biblical metaphors belong to the implied category. For example, Ps 50:22 yields
a colorful bicolon which transmits God's stinging word to a recalcitrant people:
"Consider this, you who forget God, / lest I tear you apart (*pBK), and no one
shall deliver." The implied tenor consists in Yahweh's potential act of harshly
treating the covenant people as would a hungry lion that relentlessly rends the
hapless prey on which it has just pounced.18
Let us momentarily shift our focus from metaphor to simile, a noun deriving
from the Latin termsimilis, meaning "like, resembling closely." Entities existing
in continuous tension and interacting upon one another are the prime compo-
nents of similes as well as metaphors. But whereas metaphors establish identity,
similes establish similarity. In contrast to metaphors, similes offer expressed
comparisons between two dissimilar objects by enlisting the particle "like/as."19
Similes tend to be more obvious than metaphors, but less concise. Also McFague
observes that unlike metaphor, simile "softens the shock of the linkage through
its 'like,' reducing an awareness of dissimilarity."20 Since simile seems just as
intent as metaphor on establishing an unexpected resemblance between two dis-
parate entities, it has the capacity to generate undeniably compelling discourse.
Biblical poets were well aware that some of life's moments cannot be rightly
disclosed apart from imagistic speech. Sometimes a simile comes to the rescue,
sometimes a metaphor. I appreciate Wayne Booth's claim that the choice between
simile and metaphor is in fact minor since it depends "simply on whether the
speaker profits from seeming more or less daring."21 In the Psalter's poetry
enlisting faunal imagery, simile is more prevalent than metaphor.

17. This differentiation concerns Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray, The Bedford Glossary of
Critical and Literary Terms (Boston: Bedford, 1997), 211.
18. For a thorough analysis of metaphors that takes full account of reader, text, and context, see
Gerard Steen, Understanding Metaphor in Literature: An Empirical Approach (SLL; New York:
Longman, 1994).
19. In Biblical Hebrew, similes are introduced by such particles as D, 1DD, DX, the verb ^D
("to be like"), and the sequence p...r.
20. McFague, Metaphorical Theology, 38.
21. Wayne C. Booth, "Metaphor as Rhetoric: The Problem of Evaluation," in Sacks, ed.. On
Metaphor, 47-70 (53).
50 "My Words Are Lovely "

Animals Specified or Implied in Psalmic Imagery

and the Gattungen They Inhabit
In voicing their inmost needs, fears, and joys, ancient poets lifted up a myriad of
figures drawn from the world of nature. I will first note specific animals that are
named in psalmic imagery and then consider instances where their presence is

Specifically Named Animals

Thirty-four different nouns denoting one animal species or another are enlisted
in a broad array of similes and metaphors in the Hebrew Psalter. Eleven species
are figuratively mentioned more than once. They are:
]KS: flock of sheep or goats xi3: Pss 44:12 (11), 23 (22); 49:15 (14);
74:1; 77:21 (20); 78:52; 79:13; 80:2 (1);
95:7; 100:3; 107:41; 114:4,6
*n"-lK: lion x5: pss 7:3 (2); 10:9; 17:12; 22:14 (13),
22 (21)
ate: dog x4: Pss 22:17 (16), 21 (20); 59:7 (6), 15
TED: young lion x4: Pss 17:12; 35:17; 58:7 (6); 91:13
(distinguished by its name)
nnra: a collective term denoting either a x3: pss 49:13 (12), 21 (20); 73:22
beast or domestic animal such as cattle
TlBX: a noun denoting one or more birds, x3: pss 11:1; 102:8 (7); 124:7
or other winged creatures
*nm: a noun of unknown meaning x3: pss 22:22 (21); 29:6; 92:11 (10)
commonly rendered "wild ox"
*nt: ram (thus a male sheep) x2: Ps 111:4,6
7b*K: doe, hind x2: Pss 18:34 (33); 42:2 (1)
"Bra: snake x2: Pss 58:5 (4); 140:4 (3)
*]HB: horned viper x2: Pss 58:5 (4); 91:13

The four nouns headed by an asterisk are those that never appear in a psalmic
context in which a literal meaning is intended.
Sixteen animal species are mentioned figuratively but once in the Hebrew
Psalter and they never appear in a psalmic context in which a literal meaning is
intended. They are:
rmm: bee, wasp Ps 118:12
T7n: swine, (wild) boar Ps 80:14 (13)
niP: dove Ps 55:7 (6)
DID: small screech owl (perhaps tawny owl) Ps 102:7 (6)
IQ^lion Ps 57:5 (4)
"103: eagle, vulture Ps 103:5
-511?: flock of animals, likely sheep Ps 78:52
aWDJ?: poisonous horned viper or adder Ps 140:4 (3)
W>: clothes moth Ps 39:12 (11)
T: mule Ps 32:9
HKp: type of owl species, perhaps scops owl Ps 102:7 (6)
TO: sheep or goat, as small livestock Ps 119:176
KUNTZ Growling Dogs and Thirsty Deer 51

*?Vn: snail Ps 58:9 (8)

^no: lion, lion cub Ps 91:13
ru^in: worm, maggot Ps 22:7 (6)
-lin: turtledove Ps 74:19

Additionally, seven animal species are mentioned figuratively only once in the
Hebrew Psalter, but they are met elsewhere in the Psalter where their mention is
literal. They are:
rn-lK: locust Ps 109:23
ft: a collective noun denoting small creatures Ps 80:14 (13)
that ravage fields
Tn: wild beast Ps 74:19
010: horse Ps 32:9
^S: young ox, bull Ps 29:6
"IB: bullock, spanning two and five years of age Ps 22:13 (12)
pn: serpent, dragon Ps 91:13

Those four faunal nouns of highest frequency in imagistic speech within the
Psalter|Ktt, IT1K, D^D, and TBDreadily avail themselves to its poets as they
portray diverse moments of interaction with God, nature, and other human
beings. Heading the list is |X2* ("sheep"). Since memories about Israel's trek in
the desert spanning Egypt and Canaan would have taken divine guidance very
seriously, it is not surprising that images of Yahweh as the caring shepherd and
Israel as the dependent flock of sheep attained prominence in the Hebrew Bible.
Figurative uses of this noun in the Psalter portray Yahweh's own as sheep that
require careful leading in unfamiliar terrain (77:21 [20]; 78:52; 80:2 [1]) and
competent tending (74:1; 79:13; 95:7; 100:3) so that they might multiply from
one generation to the next (107:41), yielding lambs that skip across the verdant
watered landscape (114:4,6). The sheep are provided benefits that they cannot
secure on their own initiative. Yet in other figurative uses, the welfare of the
flock is at risk. Denoting collective humanity, sheep are herded toward an
adverse locale from which they cannot escape (49:15 [14]), or rendered vulner-
able to butchers when God the shepherd seems disinclined to protect the deity's
own possession from grievous harm (44:12 [11], 23 [22]).
The three other nouns listed at the head of the preceding paragraph appear in
imagery that tellingly depicts hazardous conditions that threaten to overwhelm
the psalmist. Secretly lurking in his lair (17:12), the m* ("lion") is set to
pounce on defenseless prey (10:9), attacking it with an open mouth (22:14 [13],
22 [21]), and violently rending it into smithereens (7:3 [2]). Likewise, the TSD
("young lion") conceals itself (17:12) as it prepares to sink its fangs into the
victim it will savage (35:17; 58:7 [6]). Then all four figurative allusions to the
2^D ("dog") associate canines with danger. Independent of any owner that might
restrain them, undomesticated dogs let loose growling noises as they prowl
inside town walls and scavenge for food (59:7 [6], 15 [14]), or with claws
outstretched, they entrap their catch, be it dead or alive (22:17 [16], 21 [20]).
Figurative mention of the T1B2* ("bird") is quite varied. A bird's isolated
position on the rooftop may connote uneasy solitude (102:8 [7]), but its agility
52 "My Words Are Lovely"

in escaping the fowler's net (124:7) and ability to embark on a flight to soar
beyond the reach of earthbound creatures (11:1) also captures the psalmist's
imagination. Since wings in flight in one moment become wings at rest in
another, bird imagery enters six psalms in which the figurative shelter of God's
protective wings is featured (17:8; 36:8 [7]; 57:2 [1]; 61:5 [4]; 63:8 [7]; 91:4).
Thus the beleaguered suppliant petitions Yahweh, "Hide me in the shadow of
your wings ("pfiMD *?ffl)M (17:8).

Implied Animals
Five times in the Psalter a faunal image centers on an animal that is implied
rather than specifically named (3:8 [7]; 27:2; 50:22; 73:3 [2]; 124:6). In three
instances the psalmist's adversaries are dominant. First, the phrase, "the teeth of
the wicked" (Q'Wl ^32?), in 3:8 (7) presents malicious enemies that besiege the
psalmist as predatory animals whose teeth will be rendered inoperative should
Yahweh honor the suppliant's expectation that the deity will break them. Second,
the temporal clause in 27:2, "When evildoers assail me / to devour my flesh
(HBD HK ^DK*?)", acknowledges the invasive activity of the enemy prior to men-
tion of the psalmist's confidence that the aggressor will suffer ignoble defeat.
Third, in 124:6 the poet exults, "Blessed be Yahweh who has not delivered us /
as prey for their teeth (Dms?1? *)"!&)" as he celebrates divinely sponsored deliv-
erance from unnamed opponents.
In two other instances of implication, God is portrayed in figurative language
that captures the behavior of an unnamed animal, presumably the fearsome lion.
We have already noted Ps 50:22 where God urges the defiant people to mend
their ways, lest God tear them apart (^ptD). Divine sovereignty will not be
compromised! And when Ps 76:3 (2) says of the deity, "His lair [1DO] came to be
in Salem, / and his den [TDItfQ] in Zion," it calls to mind a covert that is the
customary habitat of a lion. Marvin Tate identifies the divine image as "that of a
leonine warrior who takes a powerful position in Jerusalem on Mount Zion and
defeats all attackers."22

Psalmic Gattungen Hosting Animal Imagery

Many different psalm types incorporate skillfully crafted similes and metaphors
that focus on a diverse range of animal life. Owing to its impassioned discourse
and prominence in the Psalter, it is not surprising that the individual lament far
exceeds all other psalm types in its use of faunal imagery. Such figuration is
explicit in 14 poems: Pss 7; 9-10; 17; 22; 35; 39; 42-43; 55; 57; 59; 77; 102;
109; and 140. In their imagery these psalms name 17 different animals, 12 of
which are only met within faunal similes and metaphors unique to the individual
lament. These are rfnc ("doe" in 42:2 [1]); imK ("locust" in 104:23); m*
("lion" in 7:3 [2]; 10:9; 17:12; 22:14 [13], 22 [21]); mr ("dove" in 55:7 [6]); ao
("small screech owl" or "tawny owl" in 102:7 [6]); :to ("dog" in 22:17 [16], 21
[20]; 59:7 [6], 15 [14]); Kn1? ("lion" in 57:5 [4]); aiBDtf ("poisonous horned

22. Marvin Tate, Psalms 51-100 (WBC 20; Dallas: Word, 1990), 261.
KUNTZ Growling Dogs and Thirsty Deer 53

viper" in 140:4 [3]); W ("clothes moth" in 39:12 [11]); IB ("bullock" in 22:13

[12]); nap (an owl species in 102:7 [6]); and nr^in ("worm, maggot" in 22:7
[6]). Moreover, as lament poems alluding to God's wings, Pss 36 and 61 yield
bird imagery (36:8 [7]; 61:5 [4]), and Ps 3, another individual lament, implies a
faunal figure in its phrase, "the teeth of the wicked" (v. 8 [7]).
Although the hymn exploits faunal imagery less rigorously than does the
individual lament, it stands second in terms of frequency. Such figuration is
evident in five hymns: Pss 29; 95; 100; 103; and 114. And a bicolon in Ps 76
that we have already recognized for its implied animal figure ("His [God's] lair
came to be in Salem, / and his den in Zion," v. 3 [2]) speaks for the inclusion of
this hymn, a Song of Zion. Collectively these poems attest figurative mention of
five different animals, three of which are unique to this psalm type, namely, ^K
("ram" in 114:4, 6); 103 ("eagle, vulture" in 103:5); and hw ("young ox, bull,
calf" in 29:6).
Our third form-critical category, the communal lament, yields five composi-
tions that incorporate faunal imagery: Pss 44, 58, 74, 79, and 80. Since this
Gattung is far less dominant in the Hebrew Psalter than the individual lament,
its imagistic vocabulary enlisting faunal species is not as extensive. Even so,
with its mention of nine animal species, the communal lament is more prone
than the hymn to attest faunal imagery. Five of the nine are unique to the
communal lament: PT (a collective noun referring to small creatures that ravage
fields in 80:14 [13]); mn ("wild beasts" in 74:19); Ttn ("swine, [wild] boar" in
80:14 [13]); W0 ("snail" in 58:9 [8]); and mn ("turtledove" in 74:19).
While songs of trust cannot be easily differentiated from psalms of lament, it
is likely that as an indigenous element in the lament, the confession of trust
underwent independent development that makes it a bona fide form-critical
category. Psalms 11; 27; 63; and 91 merit mention as songs of trust that invite
faunal imagery into their lyrics. Two of the five animals they specify in their
figuration, ^TO ("lion cub") and ]Ti ("serpent, dragon"), are unique to this
category, where they join ranks with two other animals in 91:13, one of the
richest displays of faunal imagery denoting adversaries hi the entire Psalter:
"You will tread over the lion cub and the cobra (]HB); / you will trample under
foot the young lion (TBD) and the serpent." Moreover, in 63:8 [7] the phrase
"and in the shadow of your wings" (*7!O1 "pB3D), deftly portrays God as a bird in
whose protective proximity the psalmist exults, and similar figuration surfaces in
Ps 91:4.
Among individual songs of thanksgiving in the Psalter, faunal imagery is
attested in Pss 18, 92, and 118. Each poem offers one animal. The n^X ("doe,
hind") is met in 18:34 (33), the mim ("bee, wasp") hi 118:12, and the OKI
("wild ox") in 92:11 (10). Figurative uses of the first two species are unique to
this form-critical category.
Three wisdom poemsPss 32, 49, and 73enlist several arresting similes
and one metaphor that name an animal hi their vehicle.23 Psalm 49:15 offers a

23. Wisdom psalms are currently a much-disputed form-critical category. See James L.
Crenshaw, "Wisdom Psalms?," CurBS 8 (2000): 9-17, who questions "the very category of wisdom
54 "My Words Are Lovely "

figurative reference to |JC* ("sheep") which the poet exploits as a trenchant way
of representing corporate humanity. Other faunal figurations yield a paired
reference to 010 ("horse") and TIB ("mule") in a simile advanced in 32:9 and
mention HDPO ("beasts, domestic animals") in two instructive similes (49:13
[12], 21 [20]) and one forceful metaphor (73:22). Finally, a few instances of
faunal imagery are evident in two communal songs of thanksgiving (Pss 107 and
124), one covenant renewal liturgy (Ps 50), one historical psalm (Ps 78), and
one Torah psalm (Ps 119).24
To summarize: Rich figurative language resounding throughout the book of
Psalms offers a wide range of faunal imagery that enhances poetic expression in
ten different Gattungen of Hebrew verse. In their arsenal of imagistic expres-
sion, very few psalm types are entirely lacking in faunal similes and metaphors.
Those that most readily come to mind are royal psalms, enthronement psalms,
and temple entrance liturgies.

Entities Portrayed in Faunal Imagery:

The Interplay of Vehicle and Tenor
While the classification of the content of poetic imagery is no hard science, the
case can be made that seven different entities emerge in psalmic texts that enlist
faunal imagery. They are (1) the adversaries of the individual Israelite as
suppliant; (2) the adversaries of the faithful community as suppliant; (3) the
individual Israelite (often as suppliant); (4) the faithful community (often as
suppliant); (5) individual and corporate humanity; (6) the natural landscape; and
(7) divine being and activity. In the remainder of this essay we shall take each of
these factors into account as we focus on representative psalmic texts. In so
doing, we shall be freshly reminded of both the Hebrew poets' instinctive quest
for instructive resemblances that help them to make sense of the world they
inhabit and their fascination for the centripetal dimension of words that stand in
close proximity.

Adversaries of the Individual Israelite as Suppliant: Psalm 22

Faunal imagery is a staple in psalmic texts that highlight the aggression of those
whom the suppliant knows to be his fierce adversaries. Such figuration is evident
not only in nine psalms of individual lament (Pss 3; 7; 10; 17; 22; 35; 57; 59;
and 140), but also in two songs of trust (Pss 27 and 91), one individual song of
thanksgiving (Ps 118), and one communal song of thanksgiving (Ps 124). In
these texts, eight different animals are enlisted in figurative depictions of the
psalmist's adversaries: mi* ("lion," 7:3 [2]; 10:9; 17:12; 22:14 [13], 22 [21]);

psalms" (p. 15); J. Kenneth Kuntz, "Reclaiming Biblical Wisdom Psalms: A Response to Cren-
shaw," CBR 1 (2003): 145-54; and Crenshaw, "Gold Dust or Nuggets: A Brief Response to
J. Kenneth Kuntz," CBR 1 (2003): 155-58, whose position is essentially unchanged, although he
admits, "In the final analysis, Kuntz may be right" (p. 157).
24. Pss 78:52; 107:41; 119:176; and 124:7 yield explicit faunal imagery whereas Pss 50:22 and
124:6 enlist implied images.
KUNTZ Growling Dogs and Thirsty Deer 55

ate ("dog," 22:17 [16], 21 [20]; 59:7 [6], 15 [14]); TSD ("young lion," 17:12;
35:17); ao1? ("lion," 57:5 [4]); BTO ("snake," 140:4 [3]); aiBDI? ("poisonous
horned viper," 140:4 [3]); "la ("bullock," 22:13 [12]); and Din ("wild ox," 22:22
As it depicts rancorous enemies, Ps 22 is more fully enriched by faunal
imagery than any other individual lament. We meet mention of D'HS ("bulls,"
v. 13 [12]), mx ("lion," w. 14 [13]; 22 [21]), D^D ("dogs," w. 17 [16], 21
[20]), and D^n (probably "wild oxen," v. 22 [21]). Moreover, as the psalmist
reflects on the harsh circumstances that beset him, he summons yet another
animal image that emphasizes the gravity of his torment: "I am a worm [nu^in]
and not a man" (v. 7 [6]).
At once the bicolon in v. 13 (12) depicting the psalmist's entrapment by
hostile forces is buttressed by another highlighting the cruelty that dehumanizes
him: "Many bulls surround me, / mighty ones of Bashan encircle me. // They
open their mouths against me, / a lion tearing and roaring" (w. 13-14 [12-13]).
After a two-verse interlude of anatomical speech setting forth the psalmist's
morbid premonition that death will soon overtake him, he resumes his expansive
animal metaphor: "For dogs surround me; / a pack of evildoers closes in on me"
(v. 17 [16]).
Although the use of faunal names to denote national leaders and warriors is
common in ancient Near Eastern texts,25 sustained mention of menacing animals
in Ps 22 helps to establish the dehumanization that befalls the psalmist as well as
his tormentors.26 In v. 13 (12) two verbs, 330 ("to surround") and IDD ("to
encircle"), clarify that the psalmist lacks any option to flee. Portrayed in
imagistic language as "mighty ones of Bashan," these wild bulls are reputed to
be the most powerful of their species. Their forbidding presence is reinforced in
v. 14 (13) by reference to their open mouths that resemble a "ravening and
roaring lion" hungry for its supper.
Undomesticated canines pose one more threat that figuratively plagues the
psalmist (v. 17 [16]). These fierce dogs are said to be "a pack of evildoers"
(rn# D^mQ) that encircle the psalmist, thus forbidding his escape. William P.
Brown aptly observes that "as a pack animal, the dog highlights the collective
force of the psalmist's foes."27 The animal imagery that enlivens the tone of the
psalmist's complaint about enemy maltreatment (w. 13-19 [12-18]) surfaces
anew in his prayer that Yahweh intervene (w. 20-22 [19-21]). Surely it is
intentional that the animal sequence presented earlier is now reversed. The order
in the psalmist's complaint is bulls, lions, dogs, and evildoers. The order in his
prayer moves in reverse: evildoers (those wielding the sword), dog, lion, and wild
oxen. The psalmist implores Yahweh, "Deliver my life from the sword, / my

25. Patrick D. Miller, Jr., "Animal Names as Designations in Ugaritic and Hebrew," UF 2
(1970): 177-86.
26. In agreement with Ellen Davis, "Exploding the Limits: Form and Function in Psalm 22,"
JSOT53 (1992): 93-105 (98).
27. Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 140.
56 "My Words Are Lovely "

life28 from the power [TQ, claws?] of the dog. // Save me from the mouth of the
lion, / and from the horns of wild oxen" (w. 21-22 [20-21]).
With the striking announcement at the end of v. 22 (21), "You have answered
me!" (''SmJ}),29 the rich faunal imagery in Ps 22 has run its course. The extensive
portrayal of the adverse situation engulfing the psalmist may climax with
mention of "the horns of wild oxen" late in v. 22 (21), yet the verb that brings
this bicolon to dramatic closure signals the suppliant's jubilant awareness that
Yahweh has heard his plea. In its impassioned rhetoric that is thick with faunal
imagery, Ps 22 deftly imparts the suppliant's need, his earnest plea for
deliverance, and Yahweh's gracious rescue of one whose life the deity deems

Adversaries of the Faithful Community as Suppliant: Psalm 58

As communal laments, Pss 58, 74, and 80 set forth faunal imagery in their
graphic depictions of formidable hostility that severely threatens the Israelite
community. Six nouns figuratively denote the people's adversaries: Ttn ("wild
boar," 80:14 [13]); mn ("wild beast," 74:1); T ("young lion," 58:7 [6]); 0TO
("snake," 58:5 [4]); ]HD ("cobra," 58:5 [4]); and W0 ("snail," 58:9 [8]). By
enlisting choice metaphors and similes that are focused on dangerous reptiles
and imposing beasts, their lyrics spotlight the endangerment presently plaguing
the faithful that the deity is implored to address.
We turn our attention to Ps 58. This lament opens with a pair of bicola yield-
ing discourse addressed not to the deity in a plea for deliverance, but to powerful
agents in an indictment against recent abuse (w. 2-3 [1-2]). H.-J. Kraus
submits that "the psalmsinger suffers under a corrupt world order."30 More likely
the psalmist's charges, commencing with a pair of blunt rhetorical questions, are
intended to expose the evil deeds of powerful community leaders whose corrupt
governance has found them mocking basic human justice. Ordinarily emended
to read D^K ("gods"), this key noun in v. 2 [1] can denote human authorities on
whom God-given power has been conferred (see Exod 4:16 and 7:1, where
Moses is as God to Aaron and Pharaoh). Perhaps the psalmist is rebuking
irresponsible judges who perpetrate evil at every turn.
These adversaries stand not outside the Israelite community but within. In v.
4 (3) the psalmist shifts from second-person speech directed toward the wicked
to third-person speech about them. Seeking to intensify her claim that their
depravity is total, she resorts to an extended metaphor: "Their venom is like the
venom of a snake (8113), / like a deaf cobra (}na Bnn) stopping its ears // so as

28. Literally, "my only one" (from TIT).

29. The Septuagint reads TTIV TaTrei'voootv MOU, "my lowliness," possibly from the noun TP3JJ. I
find more persuasive the proposal of Peter C. Craigie (Psalms 1-50 [WBC 19; Waco, Tex.: Word,
1983], 197) that the MT be retained since it honors the unitary sense of the psalm. Also H.-J. Kraus
(Psalms 1-59 [trans. H. C. Oswald; CC; Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988], 292) supports the MT since
the psalmist anticipates that God will hear his plea. He argues, "The verbal form TP30 closes the
lament and forms a transition to the song of thanksgiving" that begins in v. 23 (22).
30. Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 537.
KUNTZ Growling Dogs and Thirsty Deer 57

not to hear the voice of charmers, / even the most expert charmer" (w. 5-6
[4-5]). Struck by this hyperbolic imagery, Erhard S. Gerstenberger writes, "The
oriental world with its dangerous reptiles and skilled charmers emerges before
our eyes."31 Although we cannot establish a specific species of reptile, surely a
dangerous adder is intended. And its deafness that distinguishes it from other
poisonous reptiles makes it impossible for any adept enchanter to charm it into a
state that might permit the removal of its venom.
Straightaway the poet voices a malediction invoking the deity to act in favor
of those like herself who have been grievously victimized: "O God, smash the
teeth right in their mouth; / break off the fangs of these young lions (D^VED), O
Yahweh" (v. 7 [6]). While the emerging new metaphor centers on rapacious
beasts, the psalmist's thought flows smoothly from what precedes. She then
frames four arresting similes, each projecting the image of disappearance (w. 8-
9 [7-8]). The third conveys her hope that powerful oppressors in her community
might vanish "like a snail (^"tee?) dissolving as it moves along" (v. 9a [8a]).
Roland E. Murphy observes that since the snail is known to leave behind a trail
of empty shells as it advances, it gives the appearance of melting away.32
Clearly, Ps 58 offers ample evidence that the use of faunal imagery in portraying
adverse power can be a most effective means of poetic articulation.

The Individual Israelite (Often as Suppliant): Psalm 42-43

The Book of Psalms hosts ten poems in which faunal similes and metaphors
portray the individual Israelite, sometimes as suppliant but sometimes not.
These entail five individual laments (Pss 22; 42^3; 55; 102; and 109), two
individual songs of thanksgiving (Pss 18 and 92), one song of trust (Ps 11), one
wisdom psalm (Ps 73), and one torah psalm (Ps 119). Ten nouns are enlisted in
the imagistic portrayal of the individual: n^K ("deer," Ps 18:34 [33]; 42:2 [1]);
mi* ("locust," 109:23); ram ("beast," 73:22); nav ("dove," 55:7 [6]); DID
("screech owl," 102:7 [6]); "TIB* ("bird," 11:1; 102:8 [7]); HKp ("owl," 102:7
[6]); Dm ("wild ox," 92:11 [10]); HB ("sheep," 119:176); and ni^in ("worm,"
22:7 [6]). The figuration falls into four categories: images depicting personal
need (22:7 [6]; 102:7-8 [6-7]; 109:23; 119:176; 140:4 [3]); images signaling
human liberation (11:1; 55:7-9 [6-8]); images affirming human empowerment
(18:34 [33]; 92:11 [10]); and images describing the psalmist's posture toward
God (42:2 [1]; 73:22). We shall inspect the last-mentioned category.
The individual lament in Ps 42^43 opens with a simile that eloquently
expresses the suppliant's recognition that God is the very ground of his exis-
tence: "As a deer [^KD]33 longs [m?n] for streams of water, / so longs pHOT] my
soul for you, O God!" (42:2 [1]). The language of v. 2 (1) posits a compelling
resemblance between the unabated spiritual thirst of the destitute psalmist and

31. Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I, with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry (FOIL 14;
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 233.
32. Roland E. Murphy, The Gift of the Psalms (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2000), 103.
33. Since the more conventional Hebrew noun for denoting the animal in question is rb*K, it is
possible that due to haplography the taw was lost, giving rise to 'TX.
58 "My Words Are Lovely"

the yearning animal desperately seeking water without which it cannot survive.34
The choice and placement of words in this simile are superb. Berlin is struck by
the pair of linked nouns, "deer" (n^K) and "soul" (BQ3), in v. 2 (1). She notes
that "by placing two objects in juxtaposition, a relationship between them is
established such that their qualities become interchanged."35 Another nominal
pair, "water" (D^Q) and "God" (DTfTK), also plays a key role in forging a
relationship. As a source on which animals depend for their very existence,
water is equated with God. Here the psalmist's thirst for God is no different
from the deer's thirst for water. Consequently, a feature that is characteristic of
deer is imputed to the psalmist.
But why might the psalmist make dual use of the verb r\9 ("to long") in this
figuration? Focused on the function of the verb KQ2* ("to thirst") in the phrase,
"my soul thirsts for God" (v. 3a [2a]), Berlin submits that this verb better suits
the parched condition of the deer than does the verb rti) ("to long") with which
it is linked in v. 2 (1). This simile transposes the psalmist's human emotion of
longing upon the deer. Berlin explains, "The verb that one would expect in v. 2
(1) in connection with the deer, 'to thirst,' is used for the psalmist in v. 3 (2).
There is a crossover effect: The deer longs (like a human) for water, and the
human thirsts (like a deer) for God."36 As the poetry progresses from the
psalmist's mention of his "longing" for God (v. 2 [1]) to the disclosure, "My
soul thirsts for God, the living God!" (v. 3 [2]), incrementation is evident. If
thirsting is in fact a stronger emotion than longing, we might infer that the deer's
dependence on water is exceeded by the psalmist's dependence on his God.
As the psalmist's thought moves forward in the same vein, he mints this vivid
metaphor: "My tears have been my food day and night" (v. 4 [3]). He who
yearned for a drink to refresh his thirst has had to taste the bitter water of tears.
The distraught suppliant who feels reviled by personal enemies (v. 4 [3]) and out
of touch with his God speaks openly of his plight. Yet overall in this poem his
posture is one of confidence that God's saving presence will visit him. As we
enter Ps 42-43 through the agency of a finely crafted faunal simile, we are
alerted to the poet's conviction that he cannot live without God who is his only

The Faithful Community (Often as Suppliant): Psalm 44

Ten poems offer faunal metaphors and similes that identify the faithful com-
munity as it lifts up its corporate voice to God in prayer, celebration, and
recollection. These are met in four communal laments (Pss 44; 74; 79; and 80),
two communal songs of thanksgiving (Pss 107 and 124), two hymns (Pss 95 and

34. Surmising that momentarily the psalmist's intimate communion with Yahweh has been
seriously jeopardized, Samuel Terrien remarks, "Anyone who has heard the bellowing of stags dying
of thirst on the hills of Upper Galilee during late summer drought must feel in his instinctual self the
haunting force of me poet's imagery" (The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary
[Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], 351).
35. Berlin, "On Reading Biblical Poetry," 31.
36. Ibid.
KUNTZ Growling Dogs and Thirsty Deer 59

103), one individual lament (Ps 77), and one historical psalm (Ps 78). Only four
vehicles are chosen in these figurations. The metaphor in 74:19 features Tin
("turtledove"), the simile in 124:7 offers TIB* ("bird"), and the simile in 78:52
yields T7i? ("flock"). In all other cases we encounter }K2* that in many contexts
invites the rendering "sheep," although in 77:21 (20); 80:2 (1); and 107:41 the
English noun "flock(s)" is more appropriate.
Nearly all psalmic metaphors and similes portraying the faithful community
as sheep fall into three categories: (1) the people's trek in the wilderness as it
slowly advanced from Egypt to Canaan; (2) their ongoing favorable status with
Shepherd Yahweh that is not confined to a specific historical moment; and (3)
their occasional victimization by the Shepherd who seems angry or neglectful.
Psalm 44 belongs to the third category. While this communal lament opens with
a rich hymnic recollection of how God has ensured the covenant people's
deliverance in times past (w. 2-9 [1-8]), this is followed by a lengthy strophe
(w. 10-16 [9-15]) in which the people's bitter complaint about their present
calamity is set forth with obvious candor. The bicolon in v. 12 (11) boldly
charges the deity, "You have handed us over like sheep for food (^DKQ ]^D) /
and dispersed us among the nations." At several junctures in this psalm the
poet's tone is alarmingly accusatory. The deity is blamed for the people's present
plight. Additionally, this portrayal of Israel's God as a negligent shepherd is
reinforced by another faunal simile in v. 23 (22) in which the psalmist protests,
"Indeed, on your account we are slain all day long; / we are considered as sheep
for slaughter (nnao }*OO)." Such animal imagery is embedded in impassioned
rhetoric that is keen to move God into lifting the people out of their intense

Individual and Corporate Humanity: Psalm 49

Three canonical psalms (Pss 32; 49; and 103) enlist faunal images as they reflect
on humanity in general. In Ps 49, a wisdom poem, human beings are viewed
collectively, whereas in Ps 32, another wisdom poem, and in Ps 103, a hymn,
the focus falls on the individual. Faunal imagery in this category features five
creatures: Ps 32:9 pairs 010 ("horse") and "HB ("mule") that must be restrained;
Ps 49:13 (12) and 21 (20) refer to nana ("beasts") as they reflect on human
mortality, a theme that is intensified by reference to )K2 ("sheep") destined for a
final resting place in 49:15 (14); and Ps 103:5 implies human regeneration
through its mention of the "HD3 ("eagle"). In all three poems, the animal
figurations in question entail similes that speak in broad terms about human
existence. While we dare not claim that specific Israelites in the community of
faith are excluded, it is characteristic of these psalms to unmask observations
and concerns that apply to all humankind.
In Ps 49 the poet declares that "mortals, with their wealth, do not abide; / they
are like the beasts [nianaa] that are destroyed" (v. 13 [12]).37 This arresting

37. I follow Kraus (Psalms 1-59,479), who reads 1013 (from HOT III) as the relative clause to
the preceding word.
60 "My Words Are Lovely "

bicolon is reiterated with slight variation at the end of the psalm (v. 21 [20]):
"do not abide" (pV1 ^D) becomes "do not understand" (fT K1?). Inviting all
people to grasp the insight that is hers from having pondered life's inequities,
the psalmist forecasts the demise of the rich and powerful, who vault their own
resources and threaten the well being of others. Convinced that human redemp-
tion lies in God alone, she has no reason to feel intimidated by controlling
wealthy persons whose arrogance activates their mistreatment of others.
Impressed by the fragility of both worldly goods and human existence itself, the
psalmist dismisses human sovereignty as a woeful illusion. While she does not
directly rebut the biblical notion that human beings enjoy a substantial measure
of divinely conferred dominion over the animal kingdom, she resorts to a pro-
vocative simile in order to impart her somber lesson: just as beasts die, so do
human beings. Then having reflected on the future of those who bask in their
self-confidence, the psalmist resorts anew to evocative figurative speech,
declaring, "Like sheep [}X2*D] they are herded into Sheol; / Death will shepherd
them" (v. 15 [14]). Surely it is the personification of death as the agent that
shepherds the arrogant to their permanent resting place in Sheol's bleak pastures
that empowers this simile. Finally, just as the bicolon in v. 13(12) claims that
human beings resemble beasts that cannot avert death, its close replication in
v. 21 (20) claims that humanity also resembles the animal kingdom in its lack of
understanding. Members of the human family that trust in their own resources
lack insight where it counts. They are doomed to expire without hope.

The Natural Landscape: Psalms 29 and 114

As they extol Yahweh's majesty and power, these two hymns unleash engaging
similes in which majestic mountains signifying stability are so convulsed by the
deity's self-revelation that they skip about in a manner akin to frightened young
animals that romp across the pasture. In Ps 29 the poet summons worship in
heaven above by anchoring that invitation in the awesome effect of Yahweh's
thundering power that convulses the earth below. Much of this hymn (vv. 3-9)
portrays a thunderstorm that rises over the Mediterranean and advances eastward
across the Lebanon range to the wilderness of Kadesh. Once the bicolon in v. 5
affirms that Yahweh's sonorous voice cleaves the stately and luxuriant cedars of
Lebanon, its successor in v. 6 declares, "He [Yahweh] causes Lebanon to skip
like a calf (*?30 TDD), / and Sirion like a young wild ox (D'Oin p 1DD)."38 Fresh
and unexpected, faunal imagery expressively discloses that durable mountains
totter aimlessly in response to Yahweh's impinging voice. As a prominent
feature in biblical theophanies, nature's abrupt and extensive reaction signals
God's universal sovereignty that the psalmist is keen to celebrate.
Similes enlisting animal imagery serve much the same purpose in Ps 114 as
the poet reflects on God's wondrous power in rescuing the Israelites from
Egyptian slavery so that they might be brought across both the Sea of Reeds and

38. Juxtaposed with Lebanon, Sirion is the Phoenician name for Mount Hermon on Lebanon's
southern border.
KUNTZ Growling Dogs and Thirsty Deer 61

the river Jordan to gain entry into Canaan. After these waters are said to have
miraculously receded (v. 3), we are told, "The mountains skipped39 like rams
(D^KD), / the hills like lambs (pet '333, v. 4)." Wishing to savor these wonders,
the psalmist reiterates in w. 5 and 6 what has been asserted in w. 3 and 4, but
he does so by shifting to second-person speech and enlisting an interrogative
format with its initial phrase, ~p no (colloquially, "Why is it?"). Thus v. 6 reads,
"[Why is it] O mountains, that you skipped like rams, / O hills, like lambs?" As
the decisive conclusion to this poem, w. 7-8 offer the answer. It was warrior
Yahweh's very presence in a cosmic theophany that caused stable mountains to
leap like startled lambs. The quaking of durable mountains therefore connotes
the yielding of all chaotic powers to the unmistakable sovereignty of Israel's

Divine Being and Activity in Scattered Psalmic References

Somewhat rarely do the psalmists depict their God as the tenor of a faunal
metaphor or simile. No line in the Hebrew Psalter explicitly states, "God is a
lion," or "God is like a lion." Even so, that representation of the deity is implied
in two texts, one a covenant liturgy and the other a Song of Zion, that have been
previously mentioned.40 In Ps 50:22 the covenant people are warned that their
God will brutally tear them apart if they continue to ignore what God expects of
them, and in Ps 76:3 (2) Salem is named God's "lair" and Zion God's "den,"
thus intimating the divine warrior's protective presence. The implied lion will
defend Jerusalem from any pending assault.
We have also observed that artful bird imagery connotes Yahweh's caring
protection that is sought in four individual laments (17:8; 36:8 [7]; 57:2 [1]; 61:5
[4]) and affirmed in two Songs of Trust (63:8 [7] and 91:4). Until an unspecified
outside threat passes by, the suppliant in Ps 57:2 [1] declares, "In the shadow of
your wings ("pS3D *?22) I take refuge," and in Ps 91:4 comes the assurance,
"With his pinions he will cover you; / and under his wings you will take refuge."
That disclosure felicitously conveys a tenacious trust in God despite an environ-
ment that is likely to prove threatening.
Finally, one explicit faunal simile invites our attention. In Ps 39, an indi-
vidual lament, the psalmist brazenly tells his God, "You discipline man with
reproofs due to his guilt, / consuming like a moth (BID) what he treasures;41 /
surely every mortal is a mere breath" (v. 12 [11]). This iconic representation of
God as a moth is indeed peculiar. Barbara Green remarks, "It is a bold image,
one of the best small metaphors for God."42 When this psalm is read in its
entirety, it becomes clear that the poet is obsessed with the notion that the

39. The same verb, "fp"! ("to skip about"), is used here as it was in Ps 29:6.
40. Perhaps the best-known implied image of the deity as lion is set forth in Amos 1:2
("Yahweh roars from Zion").
41. Against the MT which reads ITian, some manuscripts read HDH, meaning "his desire" (from
"TOFT, "to desire, find pleasure in").
42. Barbara Green, Like a Tree Planted: An Exploration of Psalms and Parables Through
Metaphor (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1997), 130.
62 "My Words Are Lovely "

transient life of human beings is alarmingly short. Since God has determined
that the psalmist's troubled and sinful life must be transitory and vulnerable to
divine chastisement, he likens God to a moth that consumes garments. James L.
Mays rightly notes that <4the whole prayer is pervaded with a melancholy about
the human condition."43 As a figuration that forthrightly unmasks the psalmist's
perception of his God, the moth simile plays no small role in creating that

Taken as a whole, picturesque speech centered on faunal imagery provides a
welcome window through which we may catch a fresh glimpse of the psalmists'
introspective understanding of self, other human beings, and the deity to whom
they voice praise and petition. Faunal similes and metaphors substantially
support Brown's claim that "the power of Psalms lies first and foremost in its
evocative use of language."44 Our inspection of this category of figuration in the
Hebrew Psalter reminds us anew that poetry is characteristically an intense and
compact form of expression. It is not surprising that biblical poets often minted
arresting similes and metaphors in order to enliven human discourse and to
ensure that minimal wording would carry maximal meaning.

43. James L. Mays, Psalms (IBC; Louisville: John Knox, 1994), 165.
44. Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 2.
William P. Brown

The following study surveys in quite limited fashion the various ways creation's
discourse is profiled in the Psalter. Most examples are straightforward and
require only cursory treatment, particularly in light of previous study.1 Two
cases, however, present a challenge to the exegete because of their rhetorical
subtlety, namely, cosmic discourse in Ps 19 and the waters' discourse in Ps 42.
Both require close readings that take into account important contextual and
rhetorical clues.

Creation's Praise
Of all the corpora of Scripture, it is the Psalter that gives greatest prominence to
creation's discursive2 voice (with Second Isaiah coming in a close second).
Creation's praise is nothing short of deafening in the Psalms: earth and heavens
rejoice (Ps 96:1 la); trees sing for joy (v. 12b); the gateways of the morning and
the evening, as well as the meadows and valleys, shout aloud (65:8, 13); seas
roar in praise (v. lib; 98:7); floods clap their hands (98:8); and the heavens
declare God's glory (19:2). Psalm 148 solicits praise from various members of
the created order, from celestial bodies to sea monsters and deeps, including

* I wish to thank Brent Strawn for reading and commenting on an early draft of this essay.
1. See the brief discussion in The Earth Bible Team, "The Voice of the Earth: More than
Metaphor?," in The Earth Story in the Psalms and the Prophets (ed. Norman C. Habel; Earth Bible
4; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press; Cleveland: Pilgrim, 2001), 23-28. For in-depth analysis, see
Terence E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation
(Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 249-68; idem, "Nature's Praise of God in the Psalms," ExAud 3
(1987): 16-30. For an exhaustive list of texts illustrating "nature's praise of God," see Fretheim,
God and World, 267-68, who in certain cases conflates nature's related roles of praise-giver and
declarer (Pss 19:1-2; 50:6; 97:6; 145:11).
2. By using the term "discursive," I focus only on those passages that ascribe what is commonly
associated with communication (e.g. "say," "declare," "wail," "praise," "call") to nonhuman crea-
tion, even though they may not actually describe verbal communication, as in the case of Ps 19
discussed below. For discussion of strictly nonverbal communication in Near Eastern antiquity, see
Mayer I. Gruber, Aspects of Nonverbal Communication in the Ancient Near East (2 vols.; Studia
Pohl 12; Rome: Biblical Institute, 1980), which examines various gestures and postures indicated in
prayer, worship, and greeting, as well as nonverbal displays of joy (e.g. shining face), sadness,
mourning, and anger.
64 "My Words Are Lovely"

trees and wild animals. The final psalm climactically enlists all living (i.e.
breathing) creation, human and nonhuman alike, to join the orchestral chorus:
"Let everything that breathes praise YHWH! Hallelujah!" (150:6).3 In short, all of
God's works, animate and seemingly inanimate, that is, all "livingkind,"4 are to
render praise and thanksgiving (145:10).
Nature's song of praise and thanksgiving is, thus, well-represented in the
Psalms, but not in every case where creation is given voice. The clamor of the
sea is not always considered praise-filled, particularly as it is associated with
social chaos. Psalm 65:8 reads:
[God] who stills the roaring (s&ori) of the seas,
the roaring (se?6ri) of their waves,
the tumult (hamon) of the peoples.5

Of the nonhuman denizens of creation given voice in the Psalms, the sea or
flood with its deafening timbre is the most ambiguous.6 The waters' resounding
discourse can be fundamentally worshipful or intractably hostile, edifying or
destructive, or residing somewhere in between such extremes. Context is key, as
will be seen in the case of Ps 42.

Creation's Lament?
Although laments outnumber hymns nearly two to one in the Psalter, the reader
is hard pressed to find the voice of lament ascribed to nonhuman creation. The
psalmist does enlist, for example, certain birds to press the poignancy and power
of a human individual's lament. Psalm 102:6-8 reads:
From the sound of my groaning.
my bones cling to my skin.
I have become like a scops owl7 of the desert
like a tawny owl8 of the waste places.

3. For the literary and iconographical evidence, see Joel M. LeMon and Brent Strawn, "Animal
Praise in Psalm 150:6," delivered on 21 November 2005, at the annual AAR/SBL meeting in
4. The term is borrowed from womanist theologian Taliba Sikudhani Olugbala to indicate all
living things, including plants and micro-organisms, as well as "inanimate" elements (cited in Layli
Phillips, Womanism: On Its Own [New York: Routledge, 2006], xxii).
5. See also Pss 89:9; 107:28-29.
6. It is unclear, for example, whether the floods "roaring" in Ps 93:3 is evidence of praise or
hostility. See Peter L. Trudinger's positive assessment in "Friend or Foe? Earth, Sea and Chaos-
famp/m the Psalms," in Habel,ed., TheEarth Story in the Psalms and the Prophets, 29-41 (37-39).
7. So G. R. Driver, "Birds in the Old Testament. II. Birds in Life," PEQ 87 (1955): 129-40
(131). The LXX and Vulgate understand qcPat as "pelican," which is contextually (and realistically)
improbable (see also Isa 42:11; Zeph 2:14). But the unrealism may be rhetorical. On the one hand,
the versions seem to have in mind a bird associated with water finding itself out of its element in the
desert, so isolated is the speaker. On the other hand, in light of v. 8, the speaker seems to have in
mind a nocturnal bird, such as an owl.
8. Oded Borowski, Every Living Thing: Daily Use of Animals in Ancient Israel (Walnut Creek,
Calif.: AltaMira, 1998), 150^51.
BROWN ''Night to Night," "Deep to Deep " 65

I lie awake and cry,9

like a bird (I am) alone10 on the housetop.

The association between bird and speaker is evident not only in their isolated
conditions but also in their nocturnal cries. The sound of a night owl is incor-
porated into the speaker's own anguished laments.
Nevertheless, no actual laments or petitions from nature are recorded in the
Psalms, in contrast to texts outside this corpus (e.g. Zech 11:1-3, in which vari-
ous kinds of trees are called upon to lament ["wail," helilu\ due to overpopula-
tion of the land; Job 38:41, "Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young
ones cry {yesaww&u] to God...?"; and Joel 1:20, "Even the wild animals long/
cry [tcfarog] for you because the watercourses are desiccated").11 According to
Ps 104, lions roar, but they do so for their prey, not as they pray (v. 21). All
animals "hope" or "wait" (yesabberuri) for God to provide for them (v. 27), but
the specific language of discourse is not ascribed to them. In the Psalms, praise,
along with thanksgiving, is nature's primary (and preferred) voice. Praise from
the realm of nonhuman nature reflects the natural state of cosmic shalom. That is
not to say, however, that the psalms never depict nature in distress. Grass "fades
and withers" (90:6; cf. 37:2; 102:4); the earth "sees and trembles" (97:4); and
the "mountains melt like wax" before God's theophanic presence (v. 5a). But no
audible cry is recorded. Of the two discursive poles that characterize psalmic
languagelament and praisethe latter receives the lion's share of attention
from nonhuman nature.

Creation's Proclamation
Closely related to praise, another mode of discourse in the Psalms is attributed
to creation. Psalm 97 is one of several examples. Verses 16 read:
YHWH reigns! Let the earth rejoice;
let the many isles be glad!
Cloud and thick darkness envelop him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him,
scorching his enemies on every side.
His lightnings illumine the world;
the earth sees and trembles.

9. See Peter Riede, Netz des Jdgers: Studien zur Feindmetaphorik der Individualpsalmen
(WMANT 85: Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 2000), 300-305. The verb hyh reflects a root
attested in nominal form in Ezek 2:10 and in verbal form in Isa 16:2; 26:17. See also Driver, "Birds
II," 131 n. 4; and The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (ed. David J. A. Clines; Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press, 1995), 2:540, which identifies a hyh III ("to bewail").
10. The expected participial form is feminine; the verb thus points back to the psalmist as
subject (Riede, Netz des Jdgers, 304).
11. For a survey of prophetic texts mat describe the land's deterioration as a consequence of
human sin, see Carol J. Dempsey, Hope Amid the Ruins: The Ethics of Israel's Prophets (St. Louis:
Chalice, 2000), 74-88.
66 "My Words Are Lovely "

The mountains melt like wax before YHWH,

before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim (higgidu) his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.

This first half of the psalm covers a gamut of cosmic emotions, from joy to fear.
The earth is exhorted to "rejoice" in response to YHWH'S reign, and yet as the
divine presence is felt, creation reacts in fear and distress. The passage con-
cludes with a celestial or meteorological proclamation: the heavens proclaim
divinely ordained righteousness, the foundation of God's throne. Given the
poetic complement of the people's sight of God's glory in v. 6b, cosmic proc-
lamation is nonverbal yet entirely discursive. The celestial realm is ascribed a
rhetorical, communicative function: the realm of sky gives distinctly vivid
testimony of God's righteousness and glory for all to perceive.
A comparable example is given in Ps 50, but with a forensic twist. Verses
4-6 read:
[God] calls to the heavens above
and to the earth to judge his people.
"Gather to me my faithful ones,
those who made covenant with me12 by sacrifice."
The heavens declare (yaggidu) his righteousness,
for he is the God of judgment.13

Heaven and earth are enlisted by God to serve as Israel's judge, and the heavens
respond by proclaiming the creator's judicial integrity. The heavens provide the
benchmark of "righteousness" by which Israel is to be measured.
Finally, thanksgiving and proclamation are inextricably linked in creation's
discourse referenced in Ps 145. Verses 10-12 read:
All your works shall give you thanks, YHWH,
and your faithful ones shall bless you.
The glory of your kingdom they shall tell (yo3meru\
and your power they shall proclaim (yedabberu\
to make known to human beings your power,14
and the majestic glory of your kingdom.

The psalm identifies two audiences for creation's discourse. Whereas praise and
thanksgiving are directed to God, creation's proclamation is directed to a
distinctly human, rather than divine, audience. Creation's discourse is eminently
rhetorical; it carries persuasive force of God's power and glory.

"Day to Day": Psalm 19

In the examples cited thus far, the language of creation's proclamatory discourse
is cast in the most generic of predicates: ngd ("declare"), >mr ("tell"), and dbr

12. Literally, "my covenant."

13. Read 'eldhe mispaf for MT 'elohim sdpef ("God who judges"). One Hebrew manuscript has
elohe. See Sir 35:15.
14. Read with second singular suffix instead of MT's third singular.
BROWN ''Night to Night," "Deep to Deep " 67

("proclaim"). Psalm 19, however, is more vivid. Drawing from a greater reper-
toire of words for discourse that includes and expands the stock terms listed
above, this psalm concretely and paradoxically spells out the nature and medium
of cosmic discourse. Verses 2-8 read:
The heavens are telling (mesapperim) the glory of God;
and the firmament is proclaiming (magicf) his handiwork.
Day to day discharges (yabbicf} speech (}omer);
and night to night imparts (yehawweh) knowledge.
Though there is no speech (*omer\ nor are there words (debbarim)
their sound (qoldm) cannot be heard
yet throughout all the earth their "lines" (qawwam)*5 extend forth,16
so also their words (millehem) to the end of the world.
For the sun, [God] has set a tent in the heavens.
Like a bridegroom, it bursts out of its wedding canopy;
like an athlete, it rejoices in sprinting [its] course.
From one end of the heavens is its rising,
and its circuit is complete at the other.
There is nothing hidden from its heat.

As in Ps 97:6 (cf. 145:11), the heavens are given the role of proclaiming God's
glory, but here the nature of such discourse is given greater explication. Stock
terms for discourse, some more general than others, are employed. Day and
night, though polarized in varying degrees elsewhere in biblical tradition,17 share
in the common task of communicating God's glory. This kind of discourse, on
the one hand, is designated as bona fide communication (w. 2-3) and, on the
other, is considered speechless (v. 4). Cosmic discourse, in Ps 19 at least, is
deemed inaudible, even though the verb in v. 3a (nfc) is associated with gushing
wadis and belching fools (see Prov 18:4; 15:2). What kind of discourse is this?
Were modern physicists to read this passage, they might think of cosmic
microwave radiation or CBR, a form of sound that is silent to human ears but is
uniformly present throughout the universe. Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson,
two technophysicists in Murray Hill, New Jersey, initially thought this faint
background static was due to pigeon dung deposited in the giant horn of their
antenna by means of which they were trying to open up a new channel of
communication for Bell Labs. Cleaning did not help. Their accidental discovery
in 1964, however, won them the Nobel Prize more than a decade later.18 This
cosmically ubiquitous "sound of silence," moreover, bore a particular message
for cosmologists: an echo from the Big Bang, the key to the early evolution of
the universe.

15. See below for a discussion of this disputed term.

16. Hebrew yafa*. If the sense of the grammatical subject is akin to a light beam, then the
generic verb would have the more focused meaning of "emanate" (see below).
17. E.g. Gen 1:4-5; Job 11:17; 24:16.
18. For the whole story of its discovery and import, see Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald
Goldsmith, Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004),
68 "My Words Are Lovely"

Barring any astrophysical premonitions on the part of the psalmist, the key
to creation's discourse in the psalm is actually found in the textual problem of
v. 5a. The meaning of qawwam, translated here as "lines," is highly disputed.
Poetic parallelism suggests that it refers to some mode of discourse ("their
words," millehem). It is often suggested that the form is the result of textual
corruption of an original qoldm ("their voice," so LXX and Vulgate). However,
the elision of the lamed is difficult to explain textually. Dahood, following Jacob
Barth (1893), reconstructs the meaning from the root qwh (II), "to call, collect,"
but the resulting sense is far from clear.19 The basic meaning of qaw is
"measuring line," used for construction or demarcation.20 Good sense can be
made of this literal meaning by recognizing that the psalmist is couching an
essentially visual image in the language of verbal discourse. This curious term
could refer either to the designated "paths" or circuits that the celestial bodies
follow, such as the sun's "course" (>orah) referenced in v. 6, or, more likely, to
beams or rays emanating from the astral bodies themselves, particularly the
suna widespread motif in ancient Near Eastern iconography.21 Either way, it is
clear that the cosmos is given a distinctly declarative voice, a "voice" that
communicates visually. Creation in Ps 19 serves as witness to divine glory for
all to see, as also in Ps 97. Creation imparts persuasive testimony to divine
sovereignty and, in so doing, underlines the efficacy of Torah, the focus of
w. 9-12.

"Deep.. .to Deep": Psalm 42

Much more enigmatic is the discursive function of the "deep" found in Ps 42:8a:
"Deep calls (qore>) to deep at the noise of your cascades." As is well known, Ps
42 constitutes only part of a larger literary complex that includes Ps 43, unified
by the thrice-repeated refrain (42:6,12; 43:5). Discerning the discursive role of
the deep involves exploring first the larger context in which such imagery is
found, hence the following translation of Ps 42.
To the music leader. A maskil of the Korahites.
As a doe22 longs for ravines of water,
so my soul longs for you, O God.

19. Mitchell Dahood, Psalms I (AB 16; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965), 122.
20. E.g. 1 Kgs 7:23; Job 38:5; Isa 44:13.
21. See, for instance, the Sippar Tablet Relief, which commemorates the restoration of the cult
of ama during the reign of the Babylonian king Nabu-apla-iddina (885-852 B.C.E.), in which the
sun disk emblem projects four sets of wavy lines. Also note the much earlier Seal of Adda of the
third millennium B.C.E., which depicts the rising sun god Utu from behind the mountains with lines
emanating from his right arm (see Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of
Mesopotamian Religion [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976], 94). On the Egyptian side, most
famous are the various reliefs of the royal family of Amenhotep IV Akhenaton from Tell el-Amama,
which depict the rays of solar light (Aten) as beams, each terminating with the figure of a hand,
some bearing the ankh sign (ANEP 405, 408, 409,411, 415).
22. Read 'ayyelet for MT 3ayaL due to haplography and the gender of the following verb. See Ps
22:1 ;Jer 14:5.
BROWN ''Night to Night," "Deep to Deep " 69

My soul thirsts for God, the living God.

When shall I come and see23 the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while it is said24 to me all day, "Where is your God?"
These things I remember as I pour out my soul upon me:25
How I passed through to the abode of the Mighty One,26
into the house of God,
accompanied by cries of joy and thanksgiving,
a multitude making festival.
Why so downcast, O my soul,
and why so clamorous within me?27
Hope in God; for I shall yet give thanks to him,
my saving presence and my God.28
My soul is downcast within me;
no wonder291 remember you from the land of Jordan and Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.30
Deep calls to deep at the noise of your cascades;31
all your breakers and your billows sweep over me.
By day YHWH commands his benevolence,32
and by night his song is with me, praise33 to the God of my life.
I will say to God, my crag,
"Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about gloomily34 while the enemy oppresses?"

23. Read the attested we'er'eh (Qal) for MT w&er&eh (Niphal), the latter being a theological
24. See the parallel in v. lib, which bears a plural suffix. Here, the suffixless infinitive
construct indicates an indefinite subject.
25. A literal rendering of the prepositional phrase calay, frequently translated "within me." The
metaphorical language ("pour...upon me") indicates the self s internal dialogue.
26. The text appears corrupt; literally, "I passed over/through the throng (sak [?], a hapax
legomenon); I walk (Hithpael of ddhl} (with) them..." The best and simplest reconstruction is
proffered by Gunkel: besok 'addir + enclitic mem, designating emphatic force. The final word may
also be a plural form reflecting its parallel 3elohim. For sok as YHWH's abode or refuge, see Pss 27:5;
27. Another possible translation is:"... and why so stirred up against me?" (with the adversative
use of the preposition cal).
28. Readyesfrotpanay. See v. 12; cf. 43:5. MT divides the verse erroneously.
29. For this peculiar translation ofcal-ken, see Wilhelm Rudolph's translation of Hos 4:3 in
Hosea (KAT 13/1; Giitersloher: Gerd Mohn, 1966), 93, 101-2. As a rule, this compound particle
establishes a tighter, more natural connection between the previous material and what follows than
the more generic laken, both of which are usually translated "therefore." See also H. Lenhard, "Uber
den Unterschiedzwischen Ikn und c/-fcw," ZAW95 (1983): 269-72, who argues that the compound
conjunction indicates already progressing consequences, whereas laken refers only to future activity.
In this context, the speaker's current depression necessarily provokes the recollection of an
experience of divine presence.
30. Geographically unknown but evidently a feature of the Hermon mountain range.
31. Hebrew ?inndr. Also found in the highly enigmatic context of 2 Sam 5:8, the term evidently
denotes rushing water in some form, as evidenced in the Middle Hebrew and Aramaic usage. The
context, both literary and geographical, suggests waterfalls and/or gushing ground springs.
32. Hebrew hesed.
33. Read tehilld for tepilld ("prayer"), as evidenced in several Hebrew manuscripts.
70 "My Words Are Lovely "

Crushing my bones, my adversaries taunt me,

saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?"
Why so downcast, O my soul,
and why so clamorous within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet give thanks to him,
my saving presence and my God.

Water imagery flows mightily through at least the first eight verses of the psalm,
overlapping the first two stanzas (w. 2-6 and 7-12). The metaphor is thor-
oughly mixed. The psalm opens with the poignant imagery of a thirsty doe
searching for flowing wadis, akin to the speaker's own desperate search for
God's presence. God is likened to water that quenches the thirsty nepes\ the
speaker is at the point of desiccation. Yet he is also on the verge of dissolution,
as water poured out in a kenotic act of self-disclosure (v. 5a). Water imagery
concludes with a vivid scene of inundation in v. 8. And so the first eight verses
begin with too little water and conclude with ostensibly too much. In between
scenes of desiccation and inundation, two interlocking memories rise to the
discursive surface.
The first memory recalls the audible marks of Temple worship, the over-
whelming "surround sound" of praise generated by "cries of joy and thanks-
giving" (qdl rinnd wetodd). The speaker longingly recalls the clamor of festive
worship within God's sanctuary. The vivid word hamon in v. 5b paints a turbu-
lent scene of sight and sound, of cacophony and multitude. The semantic range
of this evocative term, however, extends well beyond the setting of worship. The
term can also refer to the powerful resonance of billowing waves (Jer 51:42),35
of sea (Isa 60:5; Ps 65:8), rain (1 Kgs 18:41), and water (Jer 10:13; 51:16). It
can also designate the inner groanings of the self, which the speaker describes in
the following refrain by use of its verbal root in v. 6 (hmh). The worshipper
recalls, in effect, an experience of being engulfed in worship.
But another comparable memory is elicited by the speaker's prayer, one
significantly more ambiguous but just as powerful (w. 7-8). This memory
recalls an experience located beyond the hallowed walls of Zion, in the wilder-
ness. The geographical references, one of which is unknown ("Mount Mizar"),
suggest the Banyas region north of the biblical city Dan. Far removed from the
temple setting, God's presence is encountered at the headwaters of the Jordan
River, gushing forth from the foot of Mount Hermon. Towering above the Biqac
Valley at 9232 feet above sea level, Hermon is snow-capped much of the year
(one of its Arabic names is Jabal al-Thalj, "the snow mountain"). Like a sponge,
this large convex block of limestone soaks up the melting snow, thereby
providing water for the Jordan at its foot in the form of spectacular waterfalls
and gushing springs. It is there that the speaker hears the roar of cascading

34. See Michael L. Barre, " 'Wandering About' as Topos for Depression in Ancient Near
Eastern Literature and the Bible," JNES 60, no. 3 (2001): 171-87.
35. Cf. the verbal root attested in Pss 5:22; 31:35; Isa 51:15.
BROWN "Night to Night, " "Deep to Deep " 11

Most scholars agree that the scene depicted in v. 8 is one of sheer "chaos and
death."36 Richard Clifford is representative: "The psalmist, distant from the
saving God, is compared to being in the power of Sea... It is no coincidence that
the poets here contrast Sea and Temple."37 But is the contrast so great, and is the
speaker so distant from God?
First, a re-examination of the reasons frequently cited for the traditional inter-
pretation is in order. Of note is the fact that they all draw from parallels outside
of the psalm in which the waters unequivocally pose life-threatening danger:
Ps 69:2-3,15-16; 88:8; 124:2-5; Jonah 2:4. But, as will be shown, each is quite
different contextually from what is described in Ps 42, despite two cases of
parallel language:
Save me, O God,
for the waters have reached (my) throat
I have sunk into deep mire, and without a foothold;
I have entered into deep waters; the flood has inundated me. (69:2-3)
Rescue me from the mire; let me not go under;
let me be rescued from my foes and from the deep waters.
Do not let me be inundated by the floodwaters;
do not let the abyss swallow me up,
and do not let the Pit close its mouth over me. (69:15-16)

The description of dangerous waters in Ps 69 introduces vocabulary not present

in Ps 42: "mire," "floodwaters," "abyss," "pit," "deep waters," "swallow,"
"mouth," "foes." No ambiguity is conveyed here; the deep waters, correlated
with the speaker's enemies, present a clear and present danger. Similarly, Ps
If it were not YHWH being for us,
when everyone rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us alive,
when their anger burned against us,
then the waters would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over our throats,
then the raging waters,
would have swept over our throats. (124:2-5)

Featuring vocabulary rhetorically akin to Ps 69, Ps 124 forges a clear parallel

between Israel's enemies and the "raging waters." This cannot be said of Ps 42:
the speaker prefaces the memory of cascading waters by declaring that his

36. So Richard J. Clifford, Psalms 1-72 (AOTC; Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 216. See also
Samuel Terrien, The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary (ECC; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2003), 353-54; Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Psalms Part 1 with an Introduction to Cultic
Poetry (FOTL 14; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 180; Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger,
DiePsalmen, Psalm 1-50, Kommentarzum Alten Testament mit der Einheitsubersetzung(NEchiBi
Wurzburg: Echter, 1993), 269-70; Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary (CC;
Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1988), 440; Luis Alonso-Schokel, "The Poetic Structure of Psalm
42-^3," JSOTl (1976): 4-21 (6-7).
37. Clifford, Psalms 1-72,217.
72 "My Words Are Lovely"

memory is that of God, addressed in the second person, not of any foes. It is
God's cascades, God's breakers, God's waves, and, ultimately, God's hesed
(v. 9) that constitute the focus of the speaker's memory at the headwaters of the
Jordan. Psalm 42, by attributing the formidable power of cascading waters to
God rather than to the speaker's enemies, resists demonizing (or, better,
"chaosizing") the waters.
This, however, is not the case with Ps 88:8, which provides a close parallel to
Ps 42:
You have set me in the nethermost parts of the Pit,
in dark places, in the depths.
Your wrath lies upon me,
and with all your breakers you afflict me. (88:7-8)

This lament of laments shares with Ps 42 the common word "breaker" (misbdr)
and, more critically, the second person possessive suffix whose antecedent is
clearly the deity. No gentle waves are described here. The speaker complains of
the force or pressure from God that has beset him in the dark, watery Pit: the
weight of divine wrath is likened to the pounding force of the sea's billows.
Closer still to Ps 42:8a is the exact parallel in Jonah 2:4b:
You cast me in the deep, into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me.
All your breakers and billows swept over me.

Both Ps 88 and Jonah 2 attribute to God's wrath the speaker's condition of near
death. Both psalms describe such a condition in terms of drowning, at least
Despite such parallel language, the context of God's "breakers" and "billows"
in Ps 42 is markedly different from what is described in Ps 88 and Jonah 2.
Context is determinative. First, nowhere does the speaker in Ps 42/43 make
reference to God's wrath or punishment. God's absence, rather, is the issue. But
this is not so in the case of the speaker's two memories', both recall God's
overwhelming presence. The speaker's downcast soul is the result of his current
state and its disparity with a past that is longingly recalled, a time when the
speaker felt God's awe-filled presence by the Jordan as in the Temple. Secondly,
the confident statement uttered in v. 9 bears direct connection with the memory
of cascading waters in v. 8. "Your breakers" and "your billows," life threatening
as they are in and of themselves, are folded into YHWH's hesed and "song" of
praise, active day and night. As in Ps 19, night is not pitted against day; rather,
both bear witness to God's glory within the rhythm of praise. Again, there is
nothing, stylistic or otherwise, to indicate that God's "breakers" are antithetical
to God's "benevolence," referenced in the immediately subsequent verse. The
"song" of the night, as by day, is the song of praise accompanied by the roar of
cascading waters.
Finally, the first colon in v. 8 adds a crucial nuance: the depths are said to be
discursive. "Deep calls to deep" as much as "day to day discharges speech; and
night to night imparts knowledge" in Ps 19:3. But the discourse of the deep is
BROWN "Night to Night, " "Deep to Deep " 73

not so much didactic as it is liturgical. Such is made clear by comparing both

memories in Ps 42. Drawing from the language of memory, discourse, and
praise, both memory scenes share comparable terminology. Two identical verbs
are featured: "remember" (zkr) and "pass" (cbr). The latter term is particularly
suggestive. As the speaker once passed into the Temple to be engulfed in
worship, so the "breakers" and "billows" of the Jordan passed over the speaker,
engulfing him in watery discourse. These parallels alone break down the alleged
contrast between "Sea" (a misnomer in this context, contra Clifford) and
"Temple." But there is more: both scenes convey a sense of auditory praise. The
thunderous noise of cascading waters finds its parallel with the "multitude
making festival" in the Temple. The "breakers" and "billows" resonate, literally,
with the thunderous sounds of "joy" and "thanksgiving" reverberating within the
Temple walls.
If the speaker's two memories are to any degree relatable, then the chaotic
din of the depths is invested with deep liturgical nuance and, reciprocally, lively
Temple worship is invested with a touch of the chaotic. Like the cries of joy and
praise that accompanied the speaker within the Temple walls, so the speaker is
surrounded by the roar and crash of cascading waters, the sounds of nature at
worship. As Klaus Seybold has succinctly noted, what was originally and
typically considered a hostile force is transformed in the hands of the poet into
"ein 'Chorgesang' der Wasserfalle."38 The deeps and the cascades resound in
responsive worship, and the speaker is awestruck. What, then, about the sweep-
ing "breakers" and "billows" in the second colon? The speaker is not drowning
to death. The scene need not be read so literally as to "reflect the physical torture
of someone who has been thrown or has fallen into a mountain torrent, whose
billows have tossed him from rock to rock," according to Samuel Terrien.39
Rather, the speaker is submerged in nature at worship, as he was in Temple
worship, and is, to put it mildly, overwhelmed. What, then, does nature proclaim
in Ps 42? Perhaps, as Seybold suggests, it is related to v. 9, itself cast hymni-
cally, which the psalmist appropriates in his own words. That is, deep to deep
proclaims YHWH'S benevolence and praise, all day and all night. Indeed, the
cascading waterfalls above Lake Huleh are in fact perennial, as the psalmist
knows full well.
In short, the waters that issue forth from the foothills of Hermon and resound
throughout Upper Jordan's watersheds are transparent of the mysterium fasci-
nans et tremendum, an overpowering experience of the holy that prompts more
awe than dread. Contrary to the consensus opinio, the scene that unfolds in v. 8
is not one of stark chaos endangering the speaker with mighty waves that
represent the speaker's enemies,40 but of nature at worship, threatening perhaps
to engulf the speaker. But no fear of drowning is registered here; there is no

38. Klaus Seybold, DiePsalmen (HAT 1/15; Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1996),
39. Terrien, Psalms, 354.
40. So Rolf A. Jacobson, "Many are Saying ": The Function of Direct Discourse in the Hebrew
Psalter (JSOTSup 397; London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 45.
74 "My Words Are Lovely"

prayer for rescue, for the speaker of Ps 42/43 finds the voice of the deep power-
fully liturgical, not deeply distressing. And why not? If the mighty torrents can
clap their hands and the seas thunder in joy (98:7-8) and the deeps render praise
to God (148:7) elsewhere in the Psalter, then why not here? The author of Ps
42/43 has shown in evocative, subtle detail just such a transformation, from
chaos to choir.
To conclude, I offer a striking example of water's discourse in contemporary
literature. Naturalist Craig Childs tells of an experience while hiking in a Utah
canyon that served "as a flood path" the night before:
.. .1 walked through with this memory [of last night's flood], the canyon still and quiet
around me.
I stopped. I heard people talking. I turned my head and waited to make sure of this.
For at least a week I had seen no one else. This sounded like a group. As I reached the
next turn, I could hear a fair number of people, maybe as many as ten; an overburdened
backpacking group or worse, a hiking club. Speech against such slender walls tends to
echo like spilled coins, but the enclosure was still too loud with running water for me to
distinguish exact words. I could hear inflections well enough. Questions, then answers.
I could nearly tell the age of people by the tone. I heard a woman in her forties.
It annoyed me that they spoke so loudly and freely in here. I thought I would startle
them as I rounded their corner. I hoped so. They would fall silent upon seeing me, a
man from out of the desert, fingers bandaged from cuts, eyes deliberately wild. When I
waded around their corner I stopped. Water tunneled down the canyon's cleavage. I
stood knee-deep in the pool, sunlight landing in small daggers. There was no one.
I became aware of my breathing. The weight of my hands. The voices continued.
Right here, in front of me, around me. Now they were so clear I could see the point
where they began. The canyon crimped into a sliver ten feet up from the pool. Out of
that sliver, water fell from darkened hallways. Within rooms I could not see, the stream
plunged, poured, filled, and overflowed, addressing the canyon with innumerable tones,
which then folded into echoes sounding so much like human voices that I had no
category for them. I walked forward, approaching the slim waterfall. I reached my hand
out and slipped it inside. Red water came down my fingers and laced my forearm like

Childs mistook the babbling sounds of a canyon stream, the vestige of an earlier
flood, as the voices of human interlopers. He approached this canyon chamber
with self-righteous indignation, only to be caught off guard by new "voices."
The psalmist, however, makes no mistake, bringing together the voice of many
waters and the voices of many at worship. Watery "deep calls to deep" in
liturgical mystery as shouts of glad tidings echo off Temple walls.

41. Craig Childs, The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American
Desert (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 2000), xiv-xv.
Robert L. Foster

The Category of "Call to Praise " Psalms

Hermann GunkePs Einleitung in die Psalmen proved one of the most influential
works in Psalms studies for nearly one hundred years. His emphasis on the idea
that various psalm-types emerged in specific Sitze im Leben and manifest dis-
cernible generic patterns adapted by the psalmists continues to exert great
influence Psalms research.
I argue that, in agreement with James Muilenburg, emphasis on generic
aspects of the psalms sometimes overshadows recognition of the particular
artistry of individual psalmists using various genres for their own aims.11 go
further, however, and argue that GunkeFs view of genre constitutes only one
particular view; rhetorical studies also emphasizes genres, but with greater
attention to their persuasive intent.
The classical categories of rhetorical genre include judicial, epideictic, and
deliberative, with corresponding settings in the courts, public assemblies, and
the general assembly of the government.2 The rhetor in particular circumstances
crafted a message based on generic argumentative patterns intended to have the
most persuasive effect upon the audience.
The surface language of the psalms indicates that many of them intend to
persuade some audience to adopt a particular view or action in response to
hearing/reading the psalm. Though some scholars retain the classical rhetorical
categories (with slight modification) in study of the prophetic literature,3 these
categories do not seem appropriate to the presumed liturgical settings of the
psalms (familial, regional [e.g. Gilgal], or national cult). I think we may divide
psalms into two basic persuasive categories: proclamations (those intended to
persuade a human audience, whether the congregation or the self) and prayers
(those intended to persuade the deity).4 Of course, numerous psalms contain a
mix of these persuasive intentions.

1. James Muilenburg, "Form Criticism and Beyond," JBL 88 (1969): 1-18 (7).
2. Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.3.1-3.
3. E.g. Karl M6ller, A Prophet in Debate: The Rhetoric of Persuasion in the Book of Amos
(JSOTSup 372; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003).
4. See Robert L. Foster, "Appealing to me Nations and to Israel: The Rhetoric of Psalm 96"
(paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Philadelphia, Pa., 21
November 2005), 6.
76 "My Words Are Lovely "

Within the proclamation psalms, several different aims are apparent. One of
those aims includes the desire for people to offer praise to YHWH; I label these
"Call to Praise" psalms. For the sake of the present study, I isolated Call to
Praise psalms within the Psalter in the following way. First, the psalm aims to
persuade solely a human audience, rather than to persuade YHWH, whether
wholly or in part. Second, the psalm must begin with an explicit call to praise or
sing (or clap the hands) to YHWH. Third, I eliminated psalms beginning with a
call to thanksgiving as perhaps making a different kind of appeal.5 Using these
guidelines to isolate the Call to Praise psalms yields a list of sixteen: Pss 29; 47;
81; 96; 98; 100; 103; 111; 113; 117; 134; 146; 147; 148; 149; and 150. For the
purposes of this study, I will not discuss Ps 134 because the author of the psalm
does not offer any reasons for the audience to obey the exhortation to praise.

Problems with the Rhetorical Category o/Topica

Some biblical scholars note a lack of consensus concerning the rhetorical
category of topica both in biblical and rhetorical studies,6 which reflects the
division in ancient rhetoric evidenced in the writings of Aristotle and Cicero.
Aristotle's writings exacerbate this problem by presenting ambiguous and con-
flicting accounts oftopos.1 In essence, topos "having to do with commonplaces,"
either referred to a familiar place within the rhetorical text (and the passage that
occupied that place) or a kind of argument employed in speech.8
In this study I treat the topoi of the Call to Praise psalms in terms of the latter
emphasis on the kind of argument employed. Aristotle emphasizes this
understanding of topoi in his Rhetoric when he discusses arguments, stating that
all persons who argue do not draw indiscriminately upon any subject, but only
those inherent in each subject, and preferably those most intimate to the subject.
Thus one would not simply praise Achilles for going on expedition against Troy
(many others did that) but for his slaying Hector, the bravest of the Trojans.9
This presentation closely coheres with Cicero's discussion of the "regions" in
which to locate an argument, the place to locate the argument that serves as a
course of reasoning firmly establishing a matter about which doubt exists.10
Quintilian likewise writes about the "places" to find arguments so that first one
draws arguments from persons, including their birth, nationality, fortune, occu-
pation, and so on.11 Drawing on these definitions I discuss the topoi related to

5. To distinguish between Call to Thanksgiving and Call to Praise psalms reflects the standard
genre-critical analysis of the psalms. This decision coincidently allowed me to work with a more
manageable group of psalms. Still, it would be useful to compare these two categories from the
viewpoint of rhetoric, to determine whether one should readily distinguish between the two types.
6. John C. Brunt, "More on the Topos as a New Testament Form," JBL 104 (1985): 495-500.
7. W. Martin Bloomer, "Topics," in Encyclopedia of Rhetoric (ed. T. O. Sloane; Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2001), 779-82 (779).
8. Ibid.
9. Aristotle, Rhetoric 2.22.10-12.
10. Cicero, Topica 1.6-8.
11. Quintilian, The Orator's Education 5.10.20-29.
FOSTER Topoi of Praise in the Call to Praise Psalms 77

the person of YHWH used in Call to Praise psalms, that is, the particular char-
acter traits or actions associated with YHWH that the psalmists use to establish
their exhortations to offer praise to YHWH.12

The Topoi Related to YHWH as Presented

in the Call to Praise Psalms
Psalm 29 commands the D^K *B to give to YHWH glory and strength, the honor
due his name, defined as prostrating before YHWH'S holy appearance (29:1-2).
Though it remains unclear exactly who O^X ^D designates, they apparently
reflect some "heavenly beings," perhaps echoing the pantheon of the gods found
in the Canaanite religious systems, lesser gods attending the supreme god
YHWH.13 The appeal to these beings to give YHWH the honor due his name
revolves around the voice of YHWH and its effect in the earth. Apparently the
psalmist views the thunderstorms of ancient Israel as "the voice of YHWH." The
voice of YHWH, in its thundering, displays the glory, power, and majesty of
YHWH (29:34). YHWH'S voice displays glory/power/majesty in specific ways:
it breaks the cedars of Lebanon, makes Lebanon skip like a (frightened?) calf
(29:5-6), shakes the wilderness of Kadesh (29:8), and strips the forests bare
(29:9).14 The end of Ps 29 turns suddenly to an argument based on the reign of
YHWH over the flood; YHWH remains enthroned over the flood d7\vh (29:10).
Perhaps this refers back to v. 3, which speaks of YHWH'S voice over the abun-
dant waters, so that his reign over the flood means that his voice exerts some
power over the (overly) abundant waters.15 Thus, in Ps 29 the psalmist draws
supporting arguments from two specific yet interrelated topoi/loci related to
YHWH: YHWH'S powerful voice and reign.

12. The work of the present study is influenced by George Kennedy's New Testament
Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984)
because his re-presentation of classical rhetoric allows for a more holistic approach to the rhetoric of
the psalms. My initial survey of articles, dissertations, and the recent commentary by Richard
Clifford on the Psalms (Psalms 7-72; Psalms 73-150 [AOTC; Nashville: Abingdon, 2002,2003]),
indicates that most writers follow Muilenburg and perform rhetorical analysis particularly in terms
of the specific structure of a given psalm or series of psalms. The field of Hebrew Bible still awaits a
thorough analysis of the techniques of rhetoric in the Hebrew Bible so that my use of Kennedy is
only a temporary measure, I hope. Still, I do not think it necessary to "reinvent the wheel" when it
seems the concept of topica, as something evident at a surface reading, can be used fruitfully to
study the Call to Praise psalms.
13. H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 1-59 (trans. H. C. Oswald; CC; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress,
1988), 348.
14. Kraus (ibid., 345) notes the textual difficulties of 29:9b and thinks the general emendation,
followed here, is "very problematic." He instead emends the text to read, "YHWH.. .makes the kids
squirm in pain." However, given that the previous several verses deal with the effects of the voice of
YHWH on the forest (w. 5-8), and the simile of Lebanon "skipping like a calf and Sirion "like a
wild ox," I prefer to retain the emendation witnessed in, for example, the RSV as more contextually
15. Claus Westermann (The Living Psalms [trans. J. R. Porter; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989],
232, 233) notes that ancient art often depicts the royal palace standing above wavy lines that
represent the flood. He argues that the flood of Ps 29 refers to the primeval waters as in Gen 1:2.
78 "My Words Are Lovely "

The next psalm that calls for praise (Ps 47) also stays relatively focused on
one particular aspect of Godwith which Ps 29 endedthe reign of YHWH. In
fact, the psalmist establishes the initial summons for all peoples to clap their
hands and shout for joy by asserting that YHWH is "fear-inspiring"16 as the great
king over all the earth (47:2). Verse 3 apparently elaborates on how YHWH'S
reign inspires fear: YHWH subdued people's on behalf of Israel, placing nations
under their feet (47:3), choosing an inheritance (land) for Jacob, whom YHWH
loved (47:4).17 In the second section of Ps 47, the speaker/writer summons
people18 to sing praise to YHWH, again based on the reign of YHWH over all the
earth (47:6-7); the shields of the nations belong to him and the rulers of the
earth stand subject to him19 as they gather before him as Abraham's children
(47:9-10). The author repeatedly draws upon the reign of YHWH over all nations
to substantiate exhortations to clap, shout, and sing praise to YHWH as YHWH
subdues the power of the nations on behalf of Israel (47:4-5,9-10).
In Ps 81 the author gives voice to YHWH to substantiate the call for the people
of Israel to sing and celebrate their God (81:2-6). One major reason YHWH
gives the people to persuade them to offer songs is that YHWH relieved their
burden (81:7) in the past, bringing them out of Egypt (81:11). The psalmist also
records YHWH promising that, if the people will listen to YHWH (serve YHWH
instead of other gods; 81:10), he will deliver them from their present enemies
(81:15). Then their enemies will cringe before YHWH forever (81:16) while
Israel enjoys the bounty of the land (81:17).20 The most striking aspect of Ps 81
involves the fact that the psalmist allows YHWH to make a direct appeal. This
psalm seems to employ a prophetic tone, especially in the last appeal,21 though
no messenger formula appears.
The structure of Ps 96 involves three general appeals, each substantiated in its
own way. In the first section of this psalm, the author calls upon the nations to
sing to YHWH a new song, while instructing Israel(?) to tell of YHWH'S marvel-
ous deeds among the nations (96:1-3). The psalmist defends this two-fold plea
by noting that YHWH deserves praise and fear above all the gods because the
gods are simply idols, while YHWH made the heavens (96:5). Furthermore,
honor and majesty go before YHWH, strength and beauty are in YHWH'S sanctu-
ary (96:6). In the second section the psalmist calls upon the nations to give

16. To borrow a term from Kraus (Psalms 1-59,468).

17. Thus, it seems likely that YHWH subduing peoples references the conquest of Canaan; see
A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms. VoL 1, Psalms 1-72 (New Century Bible; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1972), 362.
18. W. A. M. Beuken ("Psalm XLVH: Structure and Drama," in Remembering All the Way...
[OTS 21; Leiden: Brill, 1981], 43) believes this to be the people of Israel.
19. Anderson (Psalms 1-72,366) argues that, since "our shields" parallels "your anointed" in
Ps 84:10 and "our king" in Ps 89:19, the LXX translation of 47: lOc as "the rulers of the earth" seems
20. Walter Brueggemann (The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary [Minnea-
polis: Augsburg, 1985], 93) writes that YHWH does not want Israel left to its fate, but desires new
life, with the recital of blessings in w. 15-17 available now.
21. So Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 152.
FOSTER Topoi of Praise in the Call to Praise Psalms 79

YHWH tribute while he tells the people of Israel to announce the reign of YHWH
among the nations (96:7-10a). The psalmist supports these appeals by empha-
sizing that YHWH established the dry lands of the earth immovable and will
judge the peoples of these lands justly (96:10b-c). In the final exhortation, the
psalmist summons the created order to rejoice in YHWH (96:1 l-12a); in fact, the
psalmist knows they will rejoice (96:12b). The psalmist establishes this final
appeal on the fact that YHWH will come to judge the earth with justice and
equity (96:13). Thus, Ps 96 supports its three appeals by drawing on three topoi:
(1) YHWH as creator of all things (96:4-5, lOb), (2) the glorious aspects of
YHWH (honor, majesty, strength, and beauty, v. 6), and (3) the coming just
judgment (96:10c, 13) of YHWH. Interestingly, the psalmist refers to both past
works of YHWH (creation), present aspects of YHWH (glory), and future acts of
YHWH (coming just judgment).22
Psalm 98 shares several similarities with Ps 96, including the initial appeal to
"Sing to YHWH a new song" (98:1). Yet, in Ps 98, the commission to sing leaves
the particular singers ambiguous; Ps 96 specifically calls upon all peoples of the
earth. The supporting argument of the summons in Ps 98 suggests that the
author has Israel in view, given that the main topic is the salvation (ntflBT) of
Israel that God reveals to the eyes of the nations (98:2-3).23 For the psalmist,
this salvation constitutes a display of the justice, faithful love, and faithfulness
The following verses make several appeals to the nations to join in singing to
YHWH (98:4-6) and for the created order to rejoice in YHWH (98:7-8). Like Ps
96, Ps 98 uses YHWH'S coming just judgment to support the exhortation to joy
in the created order (98:9). So, though the psalmist makes several appeals to
various constituents in the created order (Israel, the nations, the seas, streams,
trees), the appeal to the person and work of YHWH basically involves two areas:
saving work and future just judgment.
In the short Ps 100, the psalmist appeals to "all the earth" to rejoice, to serve
and to exult in YHWH (100:1-2). There is also a command for (Israel?)24 to
know that YHWH is God (100:3a). Psalm 100:3b-c moves into reasons for the
people to rejoice in YHWH and for Israel to know YHWH is God: YHWH made
Israel his people; they belong to YHWH as sheep of his pasture. Given that the
image of the shepherd/flock in the ancient Near East often served as a metaphor
for the king's relationship to his people,25 this phrase may not only affirm that
YHWH created and owns Israel, but also that YHWH reigns over them. The
second half of the psalm summons people to come into the sanctuary of YHWH

22. J. Clinton McCann ("The Book of Psalms," NIB 4:639-1280 [1065]) draws the same
conclusion in his comments on Ps 98.
23. A. A. Anderson (The Book of Psalms. Vol 2, Psalms 73-150 [New Century Bible; London:
Oliphants, 1972], 691) writes regarding v. 1, "If indeed the psalm had its origin in the last few years
of the Babylonian exile, the 'new song' might have been intended to express YHWH'S triumph at a
new Exodus, just as the people of Israel magnified God at the first Exodus (cf. Exod 15: Iff.)."
24. H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 60-150 (trans. H. C. Hilton; Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989), 274.
25. Jack W. Vancil, "Sheep, Shepherd," ABD 5:1187-91.
80 "My Words Are Lovely "

with thanksgiving and praise (100:4). The supporting reason offered here
reflects the character of YHWH more abstractly: the goodness of YHWH, YHWH'S
faithful love that lasts D^ltf1?, and the faithfulness of YHWH generation after
generation (100:5). Like other psalmists, this author appeals to both actions
specific to YHWH (his constitution and continued relation to Israel) as well as to
general virtues YHWH possesses, presumably in greater measure than any other
(goodness, faithful love, faithfulness).
Psalm 103 represents the longest of the Call to Praise psalms, incorporating
numerous references to attributes and actions of YHWH that serve as reasons for
praise. Notice that the psalm begins with the psalmist speaking to his/her own
soul to bless YHWH and not forget YHWH'S benefits (103:1-2). Apart from the
final invitation for a variety of others to join the psalmist in blessing YHWH,
which serves as an inclusio of the psalm (103:20-22), the remaining verses
enumerate "all the benefits of YHWH." Chief among the benefits is that YHWH
forgives all the psalmist's guilt and heals the psalmist's infirmities (103:3). Later
the psalmist elaborates on this by stating that YHWH does not treat us as our sins
deserve (103:10); instead, YHWH removes transgressions as far away as a person
can imagine (103:12). The basis of this improbable forgiveness apparently lies
in the faithful love (ion) of YHWH, invoked throughout the psalm (103:4,8,11,
17). The healing of all diseases and redemption from the Pit (103:3b-4a) might
indicate the link in the ancient world between sin and sickness, so that the
psalmist sees the healing of his body as a sign of the forgiveness of YHWH.26 On
the other hand, "sickness" and "healing" occur in the prophets as ways to
describe how YHWH deals with sinful Israel (Isa 57:14-21; Jer 14:18; 16:4).27 In
fact, many of the terms found in w. 2-5 occur in the context of the original
Exodus and the future promise of return from exile.28 Perhaps the psalmist here
reflects personally on the benefits given to the community in the new Exodus of
the return from exile.
If the psalmist reflects upon a new exodus, this makes good sense of the
reminder that YHWH made his ways known to Moses and his deeds to the
children of Israel (v. 7). This provides an important interpretive context for the
following statement that "YHWH is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger
and abundant in faithful love" (v. 8). This statement is foundational to the life of
Israel in the covenant renewal after the Baal Peor incident recorded in Exod 32,
when YHWH proclaimed himself as compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and
abundant in faithful love and forgave the Israelites their iniquity (34:6-9). In Ps
103, the psalmist speaks of YHWH offering salvation to the children's children
and clarifies this statement by stating that this forgiveness applies to those who
fear him, guard the covenant, and remember to do his commands (w. 17-18).
Thus, though the psalmist speaks of the benefits of YHWH in various terms, it
seems that the author envisions benefits related to an Exodus like the original

26. So, for example, Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 291.

27. James L. Mays, Psalms (IBC; Louisville: John Knox, 1994), 329.
28. See the list furnished by McCann, "The Book of Psalms," 4:1091-92.
FOSTER Topoi of Praise in the Call to Praise Psalms 81

Exodus, manifesting YHWH'S forgiveness, shown in the salvation of Israel,

based upon the gracious and compassionate character of YHWH. All of this may
be summed up succinctly as YHWH'S "ton.
Psalm 111 contains the first instance of the imperative 7T l^n among the
Call to Praise psalms. Like Ps 103, this Call to Praise apparently constitutes a
command to the self as the psalmist promises to give thanks to YHWH in the
assembly (111:1). This psalm flows from beginning to end in an acrostic without
any clear division into sections, though the final verse turns to a brief wisdom
address before affirming that the praise of YHWH stands continually (111: lOc).
The arguments of the psalmist draw from two major areas: the deeds (TOI?Q) of
YHWH (a parallel term ^tfS, v. 3), and the covenant of YHWH (parallel to npa,
v. 7). Most of the topoi in this psalm constitute either descriptions or superla-
tives related to the deeds and covenant of YHWH. For example, the psalmist
describes the deeds of YHWH as great (v. 2), lofty and majestic (v. 3), gracious29
and merciful (v. 4), faithful and just (v. 7). The author explicates the deeds of
YHWH in w. 5, 6, and 9, referencing YHWH'S provision of food for those who
fear him, an inheritance for his people among the nations, and redemption,
which YHWH sent Israel. In these statements the author reminds the listeners/
readers that YHWH acted on their behalf in a variety of ways, because "he
remembers his covenant D^IU1?" (v. Sb).30 On the other hand, YHWH also gave
his covenant for them to enact in truth and uprightness (v. 7b-8). He gave them
reliable commands (v. 7ba), a covenant which he commanded Q^IIJ^ (v. 9b).
Thus, the psalmist highlights the durative nature of YHWH with Israel, as seen in
actions and the demands of the covenant, forming the basis of the appeal to
praise in Ps 111.
IT l^n also begins Ps 113, though the appeal extends beyond the individual
to those labeled as the servants of YHWH (v. 1). The basic argument begins with
a statement that YHWH deserves praise because of his height above both the
nations and the heavens (w. 3-4). The psalmist views YHWH as the only one so
highly exalted, evidenced by the rhetorical question in w. 5-6, "Who is like
YHWH our God...?" However, YHWH does not experience this lofty state alone;
rather, YHWH lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the ash heap, so
that they sit with princes, and barren women become joyous mothers of children
(113:7-9). Though the exact setting of this psalm remains unclear, its connec-
tions to the song of Hannah31 indicate that the lofty character of YHWH manifests
itself especially in care for the most marginalized of society, the barren woman,
to whom YHWH provides children.
Psalm 117 extends only two verses and so marshals little evidence to support
the command for all nations to praise YHWH (v. 1). In fact, the author does not
provide specific reasons for people to praise YHWH but rather introduces two
abstract characteristics commonly associated with YHWH: faithful love and

29. Anderson (Psalms 73-150, 774) notes that, with the possible exception of Ps 112:4, the
adjective pan refers only to YHWH.
30. Perhaps referring to "his covenant promises" (ibid., 774).
31. See J.T.Willis, "The Song of Hannah and Psalm 113," CBQ 35 (1973): 139-54.
82 "My Words Are Lovely "

faithfulness.32 However, the psalmist presents a unique perspective on YHWH'S

faithful love by using "D3 (to be superior or prevail) as the governing verb, so
that one might translate 117:2a as "For his faithful love prevails over us." This
translation implies that YHWH rules over the nations by means of faithful love
and not by military conquest.33 The peoples ought to praise YHWH because even
among them YHWH'S faithful love and faithfulness overwhelmingly manifest
The book of Psalms ends with a series of Call to Praise psalms. Psalm 146,
which begins this series of IT l^n psalms, provides layer upon layer of reflec-
tion on the character and works of YHWH that the psalmist uses to convince
himself/herself to obey the call to praise (w. 1-2). The major argument
disparages those who trust in princes or some other human for salvation. Rather,
YHWH, the God of Jacob, provides sure hope to those in need as maker of the
heavens and the earth and the sea (v. 6a) and one who remains faithful rb^vb
(v. 6b). The following verses provide a series of examples of how YHWH faith-
fully works salvation for those in need. YHWH executes (fair) judgment for the
oppressed (v. 7a), gives bread to the hungry (v. 7b), sets prisoners free (v. 7c),
opens the eyes of the blind (v. 8a), lifts up those bowed down (v. 8b), loves the
upright (v. 8c), protects the alien sojourner (v. 9a), upholds the widow and
orphan (v. 9b), but frustrates the way of the wicked (v. 9c). The psalmist
apparently links the way of the needy with the way of the righteous, while the
wicked constitute those who make the lives of the needy difficult. Thus, cen-
trally, the psalmist establishes the command to praise by highlighting YHWH'S
concern for and ability to help the needy. In these various salvific deeds, which
princes of the earth cannot achieve, the psalmist sees YHWH'S reign, which, like
YHWH'S faithfulness, lasts rb*\vh (v. 10).
Psalm 147 divides neatly into three sections, each beginning with imperatives
followed by a series of reasons to obey the imperatives. Section one begins with
the imperative IT ib^n (v. 1), section two with a call to sing (natf, v. T),34 and
section three with the imperative to praise (v. 12). Section one offers several
topoi related to YHWH to support its call to praise. These topoi do not focus
around a particular theme but emerge in a seeming rhetorical flourish: the
graciousness of YHWH (v. Ic-d), YHWH building Jerusalem and gathering the
dispersed of Israel (v. 2), healing broken hearts and binding of wounds (v. 3),35
determining the stars and calling them by name (v. 4), YHWH'S abundant power

32. Brueggemann (Message of the Psalms, 159) notes that "the ground for praise lacks all
specificity." He thinks that these two terms sum up the whole faith tradition of Israel in the most
general terms.
33. McCann, "The Book of Psalms," 4:1150.
34. Anderson (Psalms 73-150,946) thinks that (at least in this instance) the verb TO parallels
the more usual ID? and "PS?, in keeping with the usage in the title of Ps 88 and in Ps 119:172. Given
that IDT serves as the parallel term to m in v. 7,1 think this makes good sense.
35. As mentioned earlier (see p. 80), healing often serves as a metaphor in the prophetic books
for the way of YHWH in returning Israel from exile. However, given the various arenas from which
the author draws in these six verses, I think it best to view this healing/binding of wounds as a
reference to literal healing from sickness and/or injury.
FOSTER Topoi of Praise in the Call to Praise Psalms 83

(v. 5), and lifting up the downtrodden while casting the wicked down (v. 6).
Section two focuses more singularly upon YHWH'S provision for the needs of
the created order (w. 8-9), then shifts to highlight the fact that YHWH does not
delight in the strength of animals or human beings, but rather in people who fear
YHWH and hope in his faithful love (w. 10-11). Perhaps it is useful to empha-
size here that the psalmist refers to what pleases YHWH. Finally, the last section
focuses primarily on YHWH'S care for Jerusalem, including making Jerusalem
safe (w. 13-14a), providing for the needs of its inhabitants (v. 14b), and giving
to Jacob/Israel statutes and decrees (v. 19). In between w. 14 and 19, the
psalmist highlights how the word of YHWH controls various forces of nature
(w. 15-18). The psalmist apparently views the word (*m) that moves the
forces of nature as analogous to the word ("m) that reveals the will of YHWH to
Israel.36 For the psalmist, YHWH dealt in this way only with Israel among the
nations by giving his word to them (v. 20).
The psalmist of Ps 148 follows the pattern of summons to praise followed by
reasons for praise; only in this instance the summons outweigh the reasons. In
the first section, the psalmist calls upon the heavens and heavenly beings to offer
praise to YHWH (148:l-5a) supported by a singular reasonYHWH created
them and they were established in their places (w. 5b-6). In the second section,
the author appeals to the various creatures of earth (including humanity) to
praise YHWH (w. 7-13a), because only YHWH'S name is exalted, YHWH'S
splendor alone stands above heaven and earth (as the pattern within the psalm
suggests; v. 13b-c). The turn in the last verse to YHWH raising a horn (source of
strength) for Israel seems like an abrupt shift, yet, as in many Call to Praise
psalms, the psalmist shifts from universalism to particularism with seeming
ease. The author of Ps 148 offers varying reasons for the created order to wor-
ship YHWH: for the heavens the author offers the creative power of YHWH; for
the earthly creature both the exalted nature of YHWH and YHWH'S strengthening
a people particularly dear among the nations.
Psalm 149 focuses on the praise of Israel, particularly in the assembly
(149:1). In the cohortatives of v. 2 the author appeals to Israel to rejoice in their
Creator37 and their King, two key aspects of YHWH'S relationship with Israel
foundational to their praise. Verse 4 offers explicit reasons for Israel to praise
YHWH: YHWH takes pleasure in Israel and crowns the needy with salvation. In
fact, the glory of those faithful to YHWH involves their executing judgment
against the nations (w. 9, 6-8).
In the last psalm of the Psalter, the exhortations to praise to far outweigh the
reasons for praise. Yet, the author does insert two reasons, both of them abstrac-
tions: YHWH'S deeds of strength (150:2a) and his exceeding greatness (150:2b).38

36. Following Kraus here (Psalms 60-150, 559).

37. Mays (Psalms, 1275) also sees the reference to YHWH as Creator as referencing his
formation of the people of Israel.
38. This view that v. 2 offers reasons to praise YHWH relies on the idea that the use of the
preposition 2 is different in v. 2 than in the rest of Ps 150. Thus, w. 3-5 employ the instrumental 3
("with blasts of the horn.. .with harp and lyre.. .with timbrel and dance..."). The use ofl in v. 2 is a
case of causal usage, "because of his deeds of strength... because of his exceeding greatness."
84 "My Words Are Lovely "

Assessing the Topoi Related to YHWH

in the Call to Praise Psalms
The sheer variety of the topoi the psalmists use to support their summons to
praise makes it difficult to form particular classifications. However, one might
discuss these attributes under a number of rubrics to get a sense of the whole.
For example, one might divide the topoi into two major categories(1) gen-
eral attributes of YHWH, and (2) specific deeds ascribed to YHWHthough in
specific psalms these categories interact and inform one another. Among the
many attributes of YHWH listed in the Call to Praise psalms, one notes YHWH'S
holy appearance, majesty, faithful love, graciousness, mercy, faithfulness, holi-
ness, exaltation, power, understanding, and mercy. These divide into two further
categories: those dealing more directly with the interactions of YHWH with
creation (e.g. faithful love, graciousness, mercy, faithfulness) and those focused
on the splendor YHWH possesses apart from creation (holy appearance, exalted-
ness, splendor). Some, such as power, seem likely to fall into both categories.
The deeds of YHWH also divide generally into two categories. The first
concerns the created order, the heavens and the earth, and all that fills them.
Here we notice that YHWH both created them and provides for their sustenance.
In at least two psalms, the power of YHWH manifests itself in control or
influence over the natural order (Pss 29; 147). On the other hand, YHWH also
created and sustains the people of Israel. Sometimes the psalmist specifically
refers to the originating act of salvation on behalf of Israel, the exodus from
Egypt (81:11). At other times the psalmist seems to invoke the exodus as a way
of interpreting the events of the return from exile (Ps 103; see also the "gather-
ing of Israel" in 147:2). Not least among the faithful deeds of YHWH are estab-
lishing the covenant and giving commands to Israel, deeds which YHWH, of
course, remembers (e.g. Ps 111).
One interesting aspect of the topoi related to YHWH, in reference to actions,
concerns the exercise of justice. In particular, several times when the psalmists
discuss the justice of YHWH, they apparently envision justice for all peoples (e.g.
96:13; 98:9) or are ambiguous about whether this pertains only to Israel or
extends to the whole world. In this latter category, one notes especially Ps 113,
whose reference to "the servants of YHWH" (v. 1) could refer to Israel but
perhaps angels or subsidiary gods within the divine pantheon. If the latter, then
the poor and needy whom YHWH raises up and the barren women given children
could feasibly reside in any nation under purview, not just Israel.
Another rubric through which to view the topoi related to YHWH in the Call
to Praise psalms involves the dimension of time. Several psalmists call for praise
based on the past creation of the earth and Israel. Other psalms affirm the con-
tinuing care of YHWH for both creation and Israel. Finally, the psalmists offer
hope for the future, noticeably in the affirmation of the coming just judgment of
YHWH (96:13; 98:9).
With regard to time, the psalmists often use the word 0*7)2 in relation to the
topoi they use to support their exhortations to praise. I repeatedly left this word
untranslated because of modern associations of the term with "eternity," which
FOSTER Topoi of Praise in the Call to Praise Psalms 85

does not seem present in the mind of writers of the Hebrew Bible. Rather, one
should likely think of this term as referring to something like "a long time" or
"the farthest, remotest time."39 In any case, the writers of the Call to Praise
psalms often see the lasting nature of the qualities or activities of YHWH as
strong arguments for YHWH'S worthiness as an object of praise. For example,
YHWH sits as king over the flood waters rb\xb (29:10) and establishes the heav-
enly realities from the unknowable time previous tbvh (148:6). Several times
the writers of the Call to Praise psalms speak of the faithful love (ion) or
faithfulness (PQK) of YHWH in terms of D^ltf, its enduring nature (100:5; 103:17;
146:6). On the other hand, YHWH will not keep anger D^lJJ (103:9) but command
the covenant rb*\vh (111:9).
One of the more interesting ways to view these topoi relates to the use of
various stylistic devices to communicate the character or deeds of YHWH. For
example, the metaphor used most often in the Call to Praise psalms is the reign
of YHWH, which incidentally at least one psalmist believes lasts d7\sh (146:10).
Yet, the key associations provided by the metaphor vary considerably. For
example, Ps 29:10 associates YHWH as king with the fact that YHWH sits
enthroned over the floodwaters. Perhaps the image of a king placing his enemies
under his feet fits in this context, so that the psalmist intends for the audience to
envision the enemy floodwaters under the feet of YHWH, subduing their rebel-
liousness.40 The idea of YHWH as one who subdues enemies emerges explicitly
in Ps 47, where YHWH subdues all people's under the feet of Israel (47:2). Psalm
103:19 seems to emphasize the empirical nature of YHWH'S reign, established in
heaven and sovereign over all. Thus, the expanse of the kingdom of YHWH
outstrips any kingdom, perhaps a reference to the empire from which YHWH
redeemed Israel. As mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, Ps 146:10
emphasizes the lasting nature of the reign of YHWH. Meanwhile, if I am right in
my assessment of the sheep/shepherd metaphor in Ps 100:3, the psalmist there
likely emphasizes the constant care of YHWH for Israel as their king.41 Other
psalms invoke different metaphors, such as YHWH as judge (98:9),42 builder
(147:2), and healer/physician (147:3).
An intriguing cluster of similes appears in Ps 103. For example, the writer
compares the greatness of YHWH'S faithful love toward those who fear him with
the distance between heaven and the earth (103:11). In the next verse the
psalmist compares the extent of YHWH'S forgiveness with the distance between
East and West. Finally, Ps 103 also represents YHWH in terms of a father who
has compassion upon his children, that is, those who fear YHWH (103:13).

39. H. D. Preuss, "D^1," TDOT 10:530-45 (531).

40. Westermann (The Living Psalms, 232) thinks of this image in terms of YHWH erecting his
throne over the defeated chaos powers.
41. Thus, Mays (Psalms, 319, emphasis mine) writes that "God" in Ps 100 refers to the one
who creates and cares for the congregation.
42. However, this could refer to YHWH as king given that the literature of the ancient Near East
often views the king as the administrator of justice; see H. Ringgren, "p"T^ I. Comparable Terms in
the Ancient Near East" TDOT 12:240-43
86 "My Words Are Lovely "

The authors of the Call to Praise psalms also use comparative arguments to
support their exhortations to praise, with YHWH as the basis of comparison.
Psalm 96 compares YHWH to the other gods of the nations, viewing YHWH as
incomparable on the basis of creating the heavens (96:45). The author of Ps
113 searches in vain for someone comparable to YHWH in exalted status, which
enables YHWH to raise up the poor and needy (w. 5-7). Psalm 146 compares
YHWH to the princes of the earth, finding that princes provide no aid in times of
need while YHWH offers sure hope and aid (w. 3-7).43
One last category I offer for evaluating the topoi of these psalms involves
simple statistical evidence, especially concerning the various addressees of the
Call to Praise psalms, the objects of the psalmists' rhetoric. It seems logical to
expect that these psalms primarily address Israel. Yet, of the fifteen psalms
under discussion, only six address Israel solely (81; 147; 149) or in part (96; 98,
100). Five include an appeal to the created order (96; 98; 100; 148; 150). Three
psalms address the nations (47; 96; 117) and three appeal to the self (103; 111;
146). Finally, two apparently address some sort of heavenly beings (29; 113).
More to the question of the topoi, one notes that in the variety of the topoi
used by the psalmists to establish their appeals, numerous characteristics and
actions of YHWH recur in multiple psalms. Below I list those traits that occur in
two or more psalms in descending order from most to least:
Motif Occurrences Psalms
Deliverance/Salvation 8x 81; 98; 103; 111; 146; 147; 148; 149
Faithful Love/Faithfulness 6x 98; 100; 103; 111; 117; 146
Kingship 6x 29; 47; 96; 103; 146; 149
Creating/Sustaining Israel 5* 47; 81; 100; 147; 149
Creating/Sustaining Creation 4x 96; 146; 147; 148
Just Judgment 4x 96; 98; 103; 146
Relieves Burdens 4x 81; 113; 146; 147
Provides Food 2x 81; 111; 146; 147
Majesty 3x 29; 96; 148
Marvelous Deeds 3x 98; 111; 150
Mercy 3x 103; 111; 147
Subdues Peoples 2x 47; 81
Ruins the Wicked 2x 146; 147

This list challenges a common distinction made about hymns and songs of
thanksgiving which states that hymns normally praise YHWH generally or as
creator, while songs of thanksgiving thank YHWH for specific deeds on behalf
of humanity.44 Instead, as the list indicates, the Call to Praise psalms draw
equally upon specific deeds and general characteristics of YHWH to support their

43. Mays, Psalms, 440.

44. E.g. Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms (trans. K. R. Crim and R. N.
Soulen; Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), 25-35; Patrick D. Miller, Interpreting the Psalms (Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1986), 4.
FOSTER Topoi of Praise in the Call to Praise Psalms 87

Implications for a Theology of the Psalms

One of the immediate implications of the final list oftopoi outlined concerns the
search for a center of the theology of the Psalms. Scholars often object to
attempts to locate a center for Old Testament theology based on the fact that
deciding what is central seems arbitrary and that every center has difficulty
containing the various strands of the Old Testament writings.45 Likewise, it
seems wise to avoid narrowing the various strands of the Psalms to a single
center. Here we note especially the work by James Luther Mays, who views
"]*?D mm as the root metaphor of the Psalms. The findings of the present study
agree with Mays in that this metaphor appears most frequently among the Call
to Praise psalms. However, this metaphor overlaps with the chief action ascribed
to YHWHdeliverance/salvationin only three of eight psalms. Similarly, the
reign of YHWH is invoked in only two of six psalms that highlight the chief
character trait of YHWH in the Call to Praise psalms: faithful love/faithfulness.
Mays, of course, offers his work as a modest proposal that must be tested in the
whole Psalms corpus,46 and certainly Gerald Wilson is correct that viewing other
psalms in terms of the metaphor of YHWH's reign often proves illuminating.47
Still, some of Mays' bolder claims, such as that "Behind all the elements of
psalmic praise is the conviction that Yhwh reigns," seem difficult to prove.
I would argue instead that the various Call to Praise psalms emerge from
reflection on various characteristics and actions of YHWH and that particular
psalmists develop these characteristics and actions into a metaphor of the reign
of YHWH. It seems rather difficult to determine whether a psalmist views, for
example, deliverance, as an action YHWH accomplishes because YHWH reigns or
whether a psalmist reflects on the deliverance accomplished by YHWH and then
associates such action with that of kings. I think Wilson is more correct to view
the reign of YHWH as the heart of the Psalms, receiving special emphasis at the
heart of the Psalter, in the fourth of five books of the psalms, but not as the
A second theological implication stems from the fact that the majority of Call
to Praise psalms occur in Book Five of the Psalter, including the five Call to
Praise psalms that close the book. Several scholars, viewing the overall structure
of the book of Psalms, note the general movement from lament to praise within
the Psalter.49 However, it seems theologically significant that the Psalms do not

45. See the summary of various proposals and critiques provided by Gerhard Hasel, Old Testa-
ment Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (rev. and exp. ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1991), 139-71.
46. James L. Mays, The Lord Reigns: A Theological Handbook to the Psalms (Louisville:
Westminster John Knox, 1994), 13.
47. Gerald H. Wilson, "Psalms and the Psalter: Paradigm for Biblical Theology/' in Biblical
Theology: Retrospect and Prospect (ed. S. J. Hafemann; Downers Grove, III: InterVarsity, 2002),
48. Ibid.
49. E.g. Harry Nasuti, "The Interpretive Significance of Sequence and Selection in me Psalms,"
in Book of Psalms: Composition and Reception (ed. P. W. Flint and P. Miller, VTSup 99; Leiden:
Brill, 2005), 311-39 (312-13, 321-22); Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 257.
88 "My Words Are Lovely "

end with praise but calls to praise, based on the character and actions of YHWH.
The Psalms move from prayers that seek YHWH'S deliverance to proclamations
that affirm that YHWH does indeed deliver. The affirmation that YHWH answers
the people's prayers for deliverance demands that those listening to the Psalms
(the individual, corporate Israel, nations, heavenly beings) give the proper
response of praise. The overall rhetorical trajectory of the Psalms involves a
theological affirmation of the character and deeds of YHWH that the earlier
psalmists felt free to question in times of need and doubt. The final psalms
demand that those reading/hearing the Psalms move beyond the earlier period of
supplication to affirm that YHWH indeed delivers, reigns, proves faithful,
displays majesty, and so on.
The fact that the book of Psalms ends with a series of Call to Praise psalms
raises the question of where these Calls to Praise lead. Certainly, communities
of faith, such as the Qumran community and early Christians, wrote other
psalms, perhaps as a response to these calls to praise. Yet, the subsequent litur-
gical practice of many in the Jewish and Christian traditions involves a return to
die beginning of the Psalter to recite or sing them again. But re-reading or re-
hearing is not initial reading or hearing. Thus, if one imbibes of the theology of
the Call to Praise psalms in Book Five of the Psalter, one cannot read the
laments and supplications in the early stage of the Psalter in the same way again.
Rather, lament and supplication become tempered by the confident proclamation
of the character and deeds of YHWH that support the Call to Praise psalms, in no
small measure because these psalms often affirm that this character and these
deeds last D^iub. In a sense, participating in lament and supplication after
listening to the summons of the Call to Praise psalms now becomes its own form
of praise because one remembers that, in a previous recitation or singing of the
Psalter, YHWH does indeed answer these prayers. Thus, the one who prays the
psalms of supplication and lament does so with a new expectation that not only
will YHWH answer these prayers and laments, but also that she/he will join the
psalmists in confidence at the end, calling others to the praise of YHWH.
Part II
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Johan H. Coetzee

1. Introduction
Due to the specific aim of the present studynamely, to illustrate how embodi-
ment forms the basis of the poetic rhetorical argumentation in Ps 8the Hebrew
text will be approached without commenting on any of the textual problems
involved, while the RSV will serve as the English translation. The approach will
focus on the human body as a phenomenon (Leder's model), linked with
cognitive science (Johnson's), and environmental experience of the human body
(Tuan's model). The main aim of this paper is, therefore, to illustrate how the
human body acts as the source of embodied, imaginative meaning and under-
standing, which is "translated" into metaphorical symbolization in this psalm.
This means that less prominence will be given to the analysis of the rhetorical
argumentation in terms of rhetorical persuasion, although it will be dealt with in
broad terms.

2. A Brief Close Reading of the Psalm

In order to explore the embodied speech found in Ps 8, it will first be necessary
to highlight the main flow of argumentation in the psalm. The table appearing on
the next page presents the structure of psalm, along with the Hebrew text and
English translation.
The prayer is directed to Yahweh as a prayer of praise. Hie three expressions
of awe introduced by "HQ (w. 2, 5, 10) determine the framework of the psalm
and introduce and relate the two main characters, namely, Yahweh and
humankind. Humans normally ask questions about God when looking up into
the skies. The psalmist, however, begins from the opposite pole. Accepting the
universe as the handiwork of a creator God, he asks questions about human

I. R. Davidson, The Vitality of Worship: A Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1998), 38.
92 "My Words Are Lovely "

t-rn1? "noTQ rrTurr1?^ nsao1?

To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.
pxrr^Da "jDtf TTirna iraix mm
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!
:n<iotirri?i> "jTin nan "itfx
Thou whose glory above the heavens is chanted
a'pri D^IJJ 'BD
by the mouth of babes and infants,
ropanoi :riK rratfrr4? "p-ms \sd? w mo1*
thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
irrraro ntfic o'OD'oi PIT -pnraflt ^ra -potf mniro
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy ringers, the moon
and the stars which thou hast established;
mpan -o o-nrpi ia"Dtrro irnD
what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man
that thou dost care for him?
:imoi?n "nm TODI DTT^KQ BJ?Q imonrn
Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him
with glory and honor.
n^a-rnnn nntf ^D -pT stDi?D3 in^^'on
Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands;
thou hast put all things under his feet,
:*-KD" room nai D^D wsbm na^
all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
m^D" nirnx -or n-n am ntt i*^
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes
along the paths of the sea.

tpKH'^Dn fDtf TTX'rTQ TT3TK mn"1

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!

The central question2 in the argumentation of the psalmist is found in v. 5,

"What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost
care for him?" This question, which speaks of boundless astonishment, relates to
both the heavens (w. 2b-4; in v. 4a "the works of thy fingers" are listed as
moon and stars), and the earth (w. 7-9; in v. 7a "the works of thy hands" are
listed as sheep, oxen, beasts of the field, birds, and fish).3 With this the author

2. H.-J. Kraus, TheologiederPsalmen (BKAT 15/3; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1979),

3. According to H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament (London: SCM, 1974), 68,
this is perhaps an allusion to the artistic filigree-work in the delicate web of the constellations. See
J. H. Coetzee, "Silence, ye women! God is at work in the womb: Ps 139 as Illustration of Israel's
COETZEE "Yet thou hast made him little less than God" 93

argues that humankind is located at the center of the works of God's hands,
stressing its importance. This positioning of humankind is most important with
regard to the psalmist's argumentation about the relationships between humans,
God, and rival powers.
The emphasis in the psalm is mainly on Yahweh's works on the earth and not
those in heaven, as indicated by the frame ("in all the earth," w. 2a, 10), by
Yahweh's involvement with humankind (w. 5-6), and by the elaborate listing
of the animal world (w. 8-9). This emphasis relates to the exigency of the
rhetorical situation, namely, humankind's relationships with God, the enemies,
and the threatening animal world. Humankind's position in the universe is to be
sorted out. The expression of praise in v. 2a (the introducing part of the frame) is
directly linked to w. 2b-3, namely, to the weak human (babes and infants, v. 3)
whose vocal sounds bring the enemies of God to rest, while the same expression
of praise in v. 10 (the closing part of the frame) directly links up with w. 7-9,
namely, with the royal man who controls the animal world.4 Similar to God's
control over his enemies through the weakest of humans (w. 2b-3), human-
kind's rule over the animals is one of rivalrythe animal world is metaphori-
cally put under the human feet as if the animals are the enemies of humans.5
This reasoning by analogy6 lies at the base of the psalmist's rhetoric in the psalm
as a whole. However, the expressions of praise, which have precisely the same
wording in w. 2a and 10, contain the psalm as a whole, and thus stress the
majesty of Yahweh's name on earth.7 Why then this combination of praise and
of rivalry in the argumentation of the psalmist?
If one keeps in mind that in numerous psalms the enemies of the supplicants
are depicted as animals, one could probably ask the question whether Ps 8 can
really be used in arguments concerning ecology. The control over the animal
world and the control over the nations were seen as a further aspect of control-
ling the chaotic forces in Old Testament times.8 The exigency of the rhetorical
situation of the psalm, therefore, has probably more to do with the human fear
for its human and animal rivals than with human care for the animals. Tate9
argues that the canonical setting of the psalm within the Psalter presupposes a
context of stress and is designed to bolster faith in God on the part of the
community, because the surrounding psalms (w. 37, 9-14) reflect distress,
oppression, and enemies of all types. The praising of the majesty of Yahweh's

Embodied Patriarchal Theology of Containment," OTE 18 (2005): 521-30, for a discussion of God
as the weaver in the mother's womb.
4. M. E. Tate, "An Exposition of Psalm 8," PRSt 28 (2001): 343-59 (351), argues that "babes
and infants" is a metaphor for the weak and inherently helpless condition of human beings.
5. O. H. Steck, "Beobachtungen zu Psalm 8," BN14 (1981): 54-64 (59).
6. See C. H. Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumen-
tation (trans. J. Wilkinson and P. Weaver; Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969),
371-98, for an extensive discussion of reasoning by analogy.
7. N. H. Ridderbos, Die Psalmen: Stilistische Verfahren undAufbau mit besonderer Beruck-
sichtigungvon Ps 1-41 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1972), 139.
8. Ibid., 62.
9. Tate, "Psalm 8," 346.
94 "My Words Are Lovely "

name on earth (w. 2,10), which contains the psalm as a whole, is rhetorically
thus related to two important issues: first, to still Yahweh's foes by means of the
weakest of humankind who chant Yahweh's glory above the heavens (v. 3), and
secondly, to execute control over the animal world (w. 7-9).
By praising God for the work of his fingers and by placing humankind in the
center of these works of creation, the psalmist endeavors to persuade his
audience not to be afraid of their enemies, which are also God's enemies, and
not to be afraid of the threat of the animal domain, which used to be a big issue
to the people in biblical times. The psalmist wanted to convince his audience of
the fact and that God himself endowed humankind with power to control these
negative forces. But his speech acts of praise also act as positive politeness
strategies towards God in the sense that the psalmist claims common ground
with God.10 This he does in two ways, namely, by calling his enemies God's
enemies (v. 3b), and by enclosing the entire prayer in praise. Praise is always in
a certain sense exaggeration in the process of claiming common ground.11
Astonishment about Yahweh's involvement with humankind (v. 5) is trig-
gered by the psalmist's bodily perception of Yahweh's finger works displayed in
the night sky (v. 4), resulting in metaphorical symbolization of the position and
task of humankind on earth, namely, to execute control over its enemies and the
entire animal domain (w. 7-9) on the basis of the power endowed upon humans
by God. This task forms the exigency of the rhetorical situation.
In the next section some aspects concerning the human body, embodied
meaning and understanding, and embodied metaphorical projection via rhetoric
will receive attention.

3. The Human Body, Image Schemata and Metaphor,

and Space
3.1. The Human Body
All human experience is embodied and it is via bodily means that one is able to
respond to the world and disclose it.12 The human body is an incredibly complex
organic unity comprising the outer body and the inner body.13 The outer body
includes the limbs, the visual parts of the sexual organs, the excretion pores and
orifices, the perceptual organs situated on the head (eyes, ears, nose, mouth), as
well as skin. This Leder calls the "ecstatic flesh."14 The inner body, including the

10. P. Brown and S. C. Levinson, "Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage,** in

Questions and Politeness: Strategies in Social Interaction (ed. E. N. Goody; Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1987), 56-289 (108-9). Positive politeness, according to Brown and Levinson, "is
redress directed to the addressee's positive face, his perennial desire that his wants...should be
thought of as desirable'* (p. 106).
11. Ibid., 109-11.
12. D. Leder, The Absent Body (London: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 1,133.
13. The distinction made here is for practical reasons only and does not introduce a dualism.
The human body in itself is not dualistic in nature.
14. Leder, Absent Body, 68.
COETZEE "Yet thou hast made him little less than God" 95

viscera, the blood system, the nerve system, the digestive system, the skeleton,
the muscles, and the brain, to name but a few, each with its own complexities
and complex functioning, is the recessive sphere of the body. It is the outer
body, especially the perceptual organs (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin) that
shape the way in which human beings apprehend their environment in order to
interpret it and to give meaning to it.15 When I look at an object from a distance,
both distance and time come into play. Distance is the spatio-temporal form of
sensing. "Only by projecting across a spatial and temporal distance can the
sensorimotor body open up a world."16 It is the very nature of the body to project
outward. From the "here" where I stand a perceptual world of near and far
distances arises.17 My body is the orienting center in relation to which every-
thing is perceived and/or takes place.
A reciprocal link exists between one's sensorimotor functions and one's
visceral processes. Hunger is not just in the stomach but pervades the mouth,
muscles, mood, and, therefore, influences one's environment.18 When one gazes
at the stars, the neck muscles, back muscles, skeleton, legs, feet, all lend sup-
port. All the other perceptual senses contribute to one's visual perception,
arousing certain emotions in a person. One's whole body (inner and outer body),
therefore, is involved in the corporeal focus.19 We always experience our
environment through a particular mood. Emotionality is directly related to the
secretion of hormones.20 Watching the night sky, the moon and the stars, can
create emotion. The fact that the psalmist bursts out in awe when watching
God's finger works in the sky and the works of his hands on earth, clearly
displays embodied emotion, which influences his rhetoric.
The body is, however, also self-concealing. One cannot see one's own eyes
without a mirror. One's own viscera cannot be perceived by the eyes. When
focusing attentively on an object, one's body awareness fades away and dis-
appears from the senses. It is this tendency of self-concealment of the body that
allows for the possibility of its neglect or deprecation.21 This is often experi-
enced in the social sphere because the awareness of the body is an extremely
social issue. People gazing at me, for example, might have the effect that I
experience myself as an object, which might result in corporeal alienation. This
phenomenon is experienced in feelings of shyness, embarrassment, and self-
deprecation.22 Especially when one is confronted with someone who has poten-
tial power over one's life, there is a tendency on the part of the powerless to a
heightened self-awareness. This is why the psalmist of Ps 8 in v. 4 experiences a

15. N. Kelsey, "The Body as Desert in the Life of St. Anthony," Semeia 57 (1992): 131-51
16. Leder, Absent Body, 22.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid., 51.
19. Ibid., 24.
20. Ibid., 117.
21. Ibid., 69.
22. Ibid., 93.
96 "My Words Are Lovely"

feeling of self-awareness and of inferiority from what he believes is Yahweh's

presence while gazing at the sky. Yahweh is personified as the most high, the
creator of all things. Although no overt power speech is involved here, meta-
phorization of God as the most high is awfully experienced via the body as will
be discussed in the next section.
The two zones of one's body, the ecstatic body and the self-concealing body,
therefore, form one body in complete collaboration.

3.2. Image Schemata and Metaphor

According to Johnson23 the two types of imaginative structure, namely, image
schemata and metaphor, are vital in the processes of embodied imaginative
meaning, understanding, and rhetorical projection. It is imagination that makes
our world meaningful and through imagination one makes sense of one's
experiences and talks about them. But human imagination is embodied and is
not abstract and transcendent, as in Cartesian dualism and most objectivistic
Western philosophies today. Mental structures of imagination and understanding
emerge from our embodied experience24 and normally result in rhetorical
An image schema "is a recurring, dynamic pattern of our perceptual interac-
tions and motor programs that gives coherence and structure to our experi-
ence."25 They are dynamic in the sense that they are mental structures of an
activity by which we organize our experience in ways that we can comprehend,
and, unlike templates or mental pictures, which are fixed, schemata are flexible
in that they can take on any number of specific examples in varying contexts.26
Examples of important image schemata are: container (in-out orientation), verti-
cality (up-down orientation), surface, path, cycle, part-whole, full-empty, near-
far, attraction, matching, contact, balance, counterforce, link, center-periphery,
splitting, collection, compulsion, and so on.27 The container schema, for exam-
ple, emerges from the fact that our bodies are containers in which we pour liquid
or food, and from which liquids and solids are excreted. The container schema is
the abstract imaginative structure of such container experiences, images, and
perceptions. Similarly, our bodily experience of up-down orientation creates the
pattern or imaginative schema of verticality.28
Image schemata differ from clear mental pictures in that image schemata are
more abstract and malleable and they are not limited only to visual properties.
That is why congenitally blind people can generate mental images via touch.29
Real mental images are fixed temporary representations, while image schemata

23. M. Johnson, The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), xiv.
24. Ibid.
25. Ibid.
26. Ibid., 30.
27. Ibid., 126.
28. Ibid., xiv.
29. Ibid., 25.
COETZEE "Yet thou hast made him little less than God" 97

are flexible permanent structures of embodied experience.30 These patterns

emerge as meaningful structures for us mainly at the level of our bodily move-
ments through space, our manipulation of objects, and our perceptual interac-
tions. We can illustrate this by means of the images schema of a cat.31 When you
see a cat walking in the garden, you form a clear fixed mental picture of the
animal. But when you feel something soft rubbing against your leg without
looking down, a cat structure presents itself in your mind. It is a structure that
can take on many shapes or colors but it is still a mental structure of a cat. The
same happens when you hear the meow of a cat, or when you just see a sweep-
ing tail sticking out around the corner of the house. These kinds of experientially
based imaginative structures are integral to meaning and rationality.32
The second type of imaginative structure, metaphor, is "conceived as a perva-
sive mode of understanding by which we project patterns from one domain of
experience in order to structure another domain of a different kind."33 According
to Lakoff and Turner,34 we use metaphors to map certain aspects of the source
domain onto the target domain, thereby producing a new understanding of that
target domain. Metaphor is, therefore, not merely a rhetorical or artistic/zgwre of
speech, to express oneself but "it is one of the chief cognitive structures by
which we are able to have coherent, ordered experiences that we can reason
about and make sense of."35 It performs at the level of projections and elabora-
tions of image schemata.36 Metaphorical language projection is, therefore, based
on physical experience.

3.3. Space
The human body operates in space and is as such the measure of all things. As
upright structure, the human body is infused with values resulting from emotion-
laden physiological functions and intimate social experiences. Humans have
intimate experiences with their body and with other people. Therefore, they
organize space "so that it conforms with and caters to their biological needs and
social relations."37 The upright human body has vertical-horizontal, top-bottom,
front-back and right-left coordinates that are extrapolated onto space,38

30. R. W. Gibbs and H. L. Colston "The Cognitive Psychological Reality of Image Schemas
and Their Transformations," Cognitive Linguistics 6 (1995): 347-78 (356).
31. This example is borrowed from R. D'Andrade, "Some Propositions About the Relations
Between Culture and Human Cognition," in Cultural Psychology: Essays on Comparative Human
Development (ed. J. W. Stigler, R. A. Shwede, and G. Herdt; Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1990), 65-129 (98).
32. Johnson, The Body in the Mind, xiv.
33. Ibid., xiv-xv.
34. In W. P. Brown, Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor (Louisville: Westminster John
Knox, 2002), 5-6.
35. Johnson, The Body in the Mind, xv.
36. Ibid., 65.
37. Y.-F. Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1977), 34.
38. Ibid.
98 "My Words Are Lovely "

therefore we think and speak of space in accordance with this corporeal schema.
The upright position of the body means action, assurance, control, status,
stature, and so on. The prone position implies submission. Most languages use
the two poles of the vertical axis of the body, "high" and "low," to denote the
values of superiority and inferiority.39 Normally the divine is identified with
"high" and the head of the body is interpreted as important, while the feet, which
form the lowest body parts, are insignificant and dirty.
Every person's body forms the center of his or her world. That is why we
distinguish between "them" and "us." I am "here" and you are "there."40 Close-
ness and distance can both carry the connotation of interpersonal intimacy or
geographical distance.
When humans ask the question about what their place in nature is, mythical
space is at stake.41 One of the models implemented to answer this question is
that earth and humans form the center of a cosmic frame oriented to the cardinal
points and the vertical axis.42 Heavenly bodies such as the sun, moon, and stars,
therefore, primarily relate to the earth. In the Old World this anthropocentric
model can be found in a broad geographical area that stretches from Egypt to
India, China and Southeast Asia, including Israel, of course.43 This kind of
mythical space "organizes the force of nature and society by associating them
with significant locations or places within the spatial system. It attempts to make
sense of the universe by classifying its components and suggesting that mutual
influences exist among them."44 This is exactly what we come across in Ps 8
when the author spells out the hierarchy between God, humankind, and the
animal realm.
Most people distinguish between two types of space, namely, the land and the
sky. Because of the lay-out of the traditional Oriental home with its rooms
facing inward to the courtyard and without windows, their only view of nature
from inside the courtyard was the sky. That is why the vertical axis, rather than
the open horizontal space, is most people's symbol of hope.45
The above discussion does not at all exhaust the dynamics of the human
body. However, it provides us with the necessary instruments for our discussion
of Ps 8 in the next section. The human body in all its complexity is bound to
space and place. It structures all experiences in order to interpret and give
meaning to the world it shares with the rest of the creation. Language (and
therefore rhetoric) is embodied, driven by image schemata and metaphorical
projection based on bodily experience. In what follows, I will concentrate on the
body mechanics as the basis of the rhetoric of the psalmist and not specifically
on the rhetoric as such.

39. Ibid., 37.

40. Ibid., 41.
41. Ibid., 88.
42. Ibid., 88,91. The other model mentioned by Tuan is that humans as microcosm experience
themselves as the image of the macrocosm.
43. Ibid., 91.
44. Ibid.
45. Ibid., 124.
COETZEE "Yet thou hast made him little less than God" 99

4. An Analysis of Psalm 8 in Terms of Embodiment

Human groups all over the world experience their homeland as the center of the
world.46 Israel is no exception when it comes to this interpretation of oriented
mythical space. Home is at the center of an astronomically determined spatial
system, the focal point of a cosmic structure in which the heaven is linked with
the underworld by means of a vertical axis, which passes through home. Home
forms this focal point only because it is the abode of the human body. It is no
wonder that v. 5 forms the structural center of this psalm, linking two spheres,
two spacesnamely, heaven (w. 2b-4) and earth (w. 6-9). Both these spheres
include human involvement. The emphasis on the earth in the frame of the
psalm (w. 2a, 10), stresses the earth as the abode of humankind with the psalm-
ist representing humankind as the focal point (v. 5). In both the frame and v. 5,
Yahweh's involvement with humankind is emphasized. According to Cameron,47
human society was presented as naturally ordained according to hierarchical
principles analogous to the human body. This provided the potential for a totally
integrated rhetoric of God, community, individual, and creation.
One can assume that the psalmist's body, while gazing at the moon and the
stars in the sky, is in an upright position, which is the normal body posture of
the human being. The verticality image schema, which is the abstract imagina-
tive structure of bodily experiences of verticality,48 not only relates to the normal
body posture and the felt sense of standing upright but also to the act of looking
upwards into the sky, and to many, many more experiences of an up-down
orientation. The two poles of the vertical axis, "high" and "low," are loaded
terms in most languages. High normally symbolizes superiority and excellence,
while low refers to the lesser, to the prone position of the body, to the inferior. It
is a universal belief among humankind that God dwells high up in heaven and
that he is identified with heaven.49 He is the source of hope. Emanating from this
verticality image schema, Yahweh is metaphorized as king, the most highly
ranked person in the social structure of Israel. He has the power to crown
someone (v. 6), to delegate dominion (v. 7); from him glory and honor go out
(v. 6).50
Royal terminology dominates in the psalm. Israel's royal metaphor can be
called a cultural object model. A cultural model is a cognitive schema that is
intersubjectively sharedby a social group.51 Much of the information relevant to
a cultural model need not be made explicit, since what is obvious need not be
stated. The following royal terminology occurring in the psalm, should also be
viewed in this context. THK ("majestic") occurs twice (in the frame: vv. 2a, 10),

46. Ibid., 91,149.

47. In J. N. Vorster, "The Body as Strategy of Power in Religious Discourse," Neotestamentica
31 (1997): 389-411(402).
48. Johnson, The Body in the Mind, xiv.
49. Tuan, Space and Place, 37.
50. W. Beyerlin, "Psalm 8: Chancen der Uberlieferungskritik," ZTK (73 1976): 1-22 (19).
51. D' Andrade, "Culture and Human Cognition," 99.
100 "My Words Are Lovely "

and is directly related to the whole of the earth, -pin ("glory," v. 2b), the only
royal term mentioned as an attribute to Yahweh, relates to both the heaven and
the earth. The weakest of humankind, babes and infants, through their vocal
noises declare Yahweh's glory above the heavens as a bulwark ("power") for
controlling Yahweh's enemies. "HIT) TQD1 ("glory and honor," v. 6) both have
humankind as object. The chiastic structure of v. 6 emphasizes Yahweh's power
to delegate, but humankind as the recipient remains in the center. The two
central legs of the chiasm, DYI^KQ ODD and "nm TUD1, act as part of a complete
chiasm, but to a certain extent also express contrast. On the one hand, the royal
qualities of glory and honor with which Yahweh endows humans, belong to
Yahweh, the highest being. On the other hand, humankind is but a little less than
DTI^X ("God/heavenly beings/heavenly bodies," v. 6). By means of this multiple
use of royal terminology, which emanates from bodily based mental structures,
the psalmist prepares for his overall argument that humans are invested with
royal power by God to rule over God's creation.
If the word DTl^X (v. 6) refers to the divine, human royalty is compared with
divine royalty. This is confirmed by Hulst.52 The expression "a little less than
God" has nothing to do with human beings possessing a divine nature.53 It only
depicts human status as lower than Yahweh within the royal root metaphor of
Israel.54 Humans are lower in status but still royal. Humans rule over the works
of Yahweh's hands in analogy with Yahweh's cosmic rule (the works of his
fingers) as a vassal metaphor.55 Beyerlin, however, interprets DTT^K as referring
to the stars and the moon, the heavenly bodies of Yahweh's creation56 (see Job
38:7 where the stars are paralleled with the divine beings), which makes sense
within the context of my own argument. Humans are, therefore, actually com-
pared with Yahweh's creation works high up in the sky.57 In both these possibi-
lities, however, the verticality image schema drives the argument of the psalmist.
The two royal expressions in v. 7, "thou hast given him dominion over" and
"thou hast put...under his feet," put humans in the center as the recipients of
royal power with Yahweh as the subject, delegating this power to humankind.
According to Mays,58 the listing of the animals "reflects the struggle of early
humankind in wilderness and junglethe arduous venture to master the skills of

52. A. R. Hulst, "Ansatz zu einer Meditation fiber Psalm 8," in Travels in the World of the Old
Testament: Studies Presented to Professor M. A. Beek on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday (ed.
M. S. H. G. Heerma van Voss, H. J. Houwink ten Cate, and N. A. van Uchelen; Assen: Van Gorcum
& CompHulst, 1974), 102-7 (104).
53. M. E. Tate, "An Exposition of Psalm 8," Perspectives in Religious Studies 28 (2001): 343-
59 (355).
54. Davidson, Vitality of Worship, 39.
55. J. L. Mays, "'Maker of Heaven and Earth': Creation in the Psalms," in God Who Creates:
Essays in Honor of W. Sibley To\vner (ed. W. P. Brown and S. D. MeBride; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2000), 75-86 (78).
56. Beyerlin, "Psalm 8," 19 n. 86.
57. J. L. Mays, "What is a Human Being? Reflections on Psalm 8," Theology Today 59 (1994):
58. Ibid., 515.
COETZEE "Yet thou hast made him little less than God" 101

hunting and fishing, to secure a safe territory against claw and fang, to domes-
ticate useful animals."
Similar to the royal metaphor, the verticality image schema, based on up-
down, high-low bodily orientations and experiences, plays the primary role in
the extended dominion metaphor applied to the human domain. The head of the
body is the most elevated and thus most important body part, while the feet are
the lowest. The heads of the prophets and kings were crowned and or anointed
with oil to bestow honor (1 Sam 10:1). The head, in fact, was seen as the whole
person.59 However, it is not reason as a functionality of the human brain that
elevates humans to the status of "a little less than God" because God is never a
personification of reason in the Hebrew Bible.60 It is rather structured bodily
experience that evokes this metaphor of being "a little less than God."
On the one hand, the psalmist's experience of his own body as high-low, up-
down, as well as his experience of the moon and the stars above, and the earth
and the animal world below, are structured as a verticality image schema and
projected metaphorically as royalty, as kingly rule, as exercising dominion. It is
because humans possess this embodied verticality image schema with its
metaphorical projection to reign, to exercise dominion, that they are a little less
than God/heavenly beings/heavenly bodies.61 On the other hand, but comple-
mentary to the previous argument, humankind's dwelling is the earth, the lower
part of the universe. And yet, the still lower creatures, the animals, mostly in a
prone bodily position on four feet, are the lowest in rank. They are ranked under
the human feet (v. 7), the lowest part of the human body.62
In combination with the verticality schema, the scale image schema is
metaphorically projected here by the psalmist, emanating from his bodily
experiences of more-is-up and less-is-down.63 The scale schema underlies both
the quantitative and qualitative aspects of our experience. Quantitatively we
experience our world filled with objects that we can group. We can increase the
quantity or decrease it. Qualitatively we experience objects and events as having
certain degrees of intensity and value. One person is more lenient than the other,

59. S. Schroer and T. Staubli, Body Symbolism in the Bible (trans. L. M. Maloney; Collegeville,
Minn.: Liturgical, 2001), 83.
60. J. J. Boersema, The Tor ah and the Stoics on Humankind and Nature: A Contribution to the
Debate on Sustainability and Quality (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 64; W. Harrelson, "Psalm 8 on the
Power and Mystery of Speech," in Tehilla le-Moshe: Biblical and Judaic Studies in Honor ofMoshe
Greenberg (ed. M. Cogan, B. L. Eichler, and J. H. Tigay; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1997),
69-72 (72), is of the opinion that human speech may be seen as a metaphor for the capacity of
human beings to take initiatives on behalf of the rest of creation: "Speech is the human means not
only of maintaining order in an existing creation but also of evoking or indeed calling into being a
world, a universe of meaning, purpose, beauty, and completeness.''
61. There is no mention of humankind as the "image of God" in this psalm.
62. Boersema, The Torah and the Stoics, 75, on the contrary, is of the opinion that the order of
creation in Ps 8 does not reflect ranking order but the ideal pastoral and agricultural society, in which
humankind plays a pivotal role. The "intrinsic value" of non-human life is maintained in this way.
63. Johnson, The Body in the Mind, 122. A typical bodily experience through sight is when one
pours water into a glass, the water-surface rises, and when the water is poured or sucked out, the
level goes down. Such experiences form a mental image structure of scale.
102 "My Words Are Lovely "

one object is more precious than the other, etc. This "more" or "less" aspect of
human experience is the basis for the scale image schema, which is metaphori-
cally applied to the relationships between God (or heavenly bodies), humans,
and the animal world in this psalm.
While the psalmist does not argue about humans as part of God's creation
work (only the heavenly bodies and the animal world fall under this category),
humankind is spoken of within the context of its place in creation.64 Humanity's
role in Ps 8 is defined in relation to the rest of creation, specifically the animal
world. The psalmist is clearly of the opinion, and he wants to persuade his
audience of this, that humankind is placed unreservedly at the top of a hierarchy
of dominion, analogous to God's relation to the celestial cosmos. And his
argument is bodily based. As both the celestial sphere and human creatures are
subject to God, so the animal creatures, both domestic and wild (w. 7-8), are
subject to human beings.65 This does not only put humankind in the pivotal
position, but depicts humans as mediators between God and the animal world.
The metaphor "the human being is 'a little less than God'" (v. 6) is a metaphor
depicting this middle position.
It is thus clear from the above that the emphasis of the royal terminology falls
on humankind. The hierarchy argument,66 with the ranking order (Yahweh [or
heavens/heavenly bodies], humans, animals), depicts humankind's position in
creation as one of hierarchy and rule.67 According to the psalmist's argument, it
is in the human royal rule that the majesty of Yahweh is present in all the
earth.68 The metaphor of the king is, therefore, directly related to the image
schema of vertically as experienced by the human body. It is most interesting
that in effect bodily experience of verticality is initially projected metaphorically
onto the divine domain (Yahweh is king), after which it is then reflected back
from the divine domain onto the human domain in the argument of the psalmist
(Yahweh bestows humans with royalty). In this way, of course, the psalmist
introduces an argument from authority69 in order to endorse the unquestionable
position and status of humankind on earth.
Why is it that the psalmist makes overtures to Yahweh and relates himself
with the animal world? Why is it that no specific mention of other human beings
is made to whom he relates in a positive sense? Careful reading shows that
various linkages are made in this psalm. Firstly, in the word irnx ("our Lord,"

64. Hulst, "Ansatz zu einer Meditation," 104.

65. Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 156; J. Nordin, "Preaching Psalm 8," CurTM2Q (1993): 259-64
66. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric, 337-45, refer to the double hierarchy
argument by means of which one introduces "a correlation of the terms of the contested hierarchy
with those of an accepted hierarchy." In the case of the psalmist, the accepted hierarchy lies in the
notion that humankind is a little less than God.
67. Phyllis A. Bird, "Bone of my Bone and Flesh of My Flesh", Theology Today 50 (1994):
521-34 (521); Steck, "Psalm 8," 58, goes so far as to say that the object of praise in w. 2a and 10 is
not Yahweh but the appointment and function of humankind in relation to the animal world.
68. Mays, "Maker of Heaven and Earth," 78.
69. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric, 308.
COETZEE "Yet thou hast made him little less than God" 103

w. 2,10), the psalmist sees himself as socially part of a larger group of people.70
Secondly, the terms tf 13X and Dlirp (v. 5) express his genetic relation with yet a
larger group, namely humankind. Thirdly, throughout the psalm the psalmist
relates in an abstract relationship with Yahweh and his finger works in the sky
(evident in the word irnK, for example). Fourthly, he also relates physically to
Yahweh's creation on the earth. Leder71 speaks of the tendency of the body to
form one body with other bodies. This principle again emanates from the fact
that the human body in all its complexity of internal organs and external limbs
and sensory organs is one body. Everything in and on the human body links up
with everything else in and on that body. This tendency to relate is typical of the
human body because of the link image schema based on human experience. As
far back as our embryonic stage we are linked to our mothers' bodies by means
of the umbilical cords that nourish and sustain us. When the umbilical cord is
cut, we start a life-long journey of linking, bonding and connecting that gives us
our identity.72 On a daily basis we experience the coupling of physical objects,
which makes possible our perception of similarity.13 In reflecting these links in
his rhetoric, the psalmist strengthens his argument that humankind finds itself at
the center of God's creation works.
The link image schema is, therefore, metaphorically interpreted and applied
even to abstract objects or connections, such as the divine, since there is no actual
physical bond between such objects. This is why the psalmist can experience his
body as being linked to the sphere of the divine by means of the root metaphor
of royalty.74 However, the same metaphor (royalty) is implemented to link the
human relation with the animal world. Although no genetic or biological links
exist between humans and the divine or between humans and the animal world
according to the biblical perspectives, a time-space link exists between these
entities. With reference to the link between the individual supplicant and human-
kind (or his own people for that matter), the link is genetic, social, and psycho-
logical, and, therefore, closer than the human links with the spheres of the divine
or the animal spheres. Although the psalmist as an individual believer stands
before Yahweh's cosmic and earthly works, he sides with humanity as a whole.
In this middle position between the divine and the animal world, both the indi-
vidual and humankind as a whole relate to the divine, or the "high" on the one
side, and to the animal world, or the "low" on the other side. And yet, because of
human createdness, the emphasis in the psalm falls on the human rule over the
animal world as the subordinate sphere of creation. Humankind cannot rule over

70. J. L. Berquist, Controlling Corporeality: The Body and the Household in Ancient Israel
(New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 139, stresses the fact that ethnicity and body are
intimately intertwined.
71. Leder, Absent Body, 161-64.
72. Johnson, The Body in the Mind, 117.
73. Ibid., 118.
74. According to Brown, Seeing the Psalms, 187, the root metaphor of royalty forms the basis
of the role of creator in this psalm: "The metaphor maps God's sovereignty as universally cosmic,
eliciting praise even from the sea."
104 "My Words Are Lovely"

the divine or over Yahweh's finger works in heaven. However, because humans
form part of Yahweh's creation on earth, they are not only primarily related to
all earthly beings, but also stand within a ranked relationship with all living
beings other than humans.75 Here the image schemata of verticality (ranking
from top to bottom) and of linkage operate in combination in the argumentation
of the psalmist. Humans are linked to the divine and to the animal world, but in
an order of precedence. The tendency to form one body does not deny difference
but rather asserts the truth of relation.76
This relatedness is only experienced as a centripetal force if the subjects and
objects within the relation attract each other. Animosity, for example, generates
a centrifugal force between two bodies (see w. 3,7-9). Distance is forced onto
such relationships on emotional and physical grounds. Forces are introduced to
oppose such relationships. In the case of Yahweh's enemies mentioned in v. 3,
the sounds of babes and infants form a bulwark to still the enemies. In the case
of the animal world, the office of kingly rule as a metaphor is introduced to
subdue hostility and to endow humans with the power to rule in analogy with
Yahweh as the cosmic king. The center-periphery image schema functions as
the basis for this kind of metaphorical projection. We experience our bodies as
the perceptual center from which we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste our
world.77 In my interaction with the world, some objects, persons, and events
become more important than others. Important persons in my life, for example,
are closer to me than those who scare me off or hurt me. They find themselves
on the periphery in relation to my body, which is my center-point. As Johnson
puts it, "the nature of our bodies, the constraints on our perception, and the
structure of our consciousness give prominence to the CENTER-PERIPHERY
organization of our experienced reality."78
Although v. 5 mirrors the supplicant's projected experience of Yahweh's
compassion towards humankind (Yahweh is mindful of humans and care, for
them), the same cannot be said of the relationship between humans and the
animal world as depicted in the psalm. The Hebrew term for compassion is
derived from the word for womb or bowels (Dm, e.g. Jer 31:20). Normally
positive actions follow from compassion and expand in concentric circles of
identification when one seeks, for example, to serve the needs of one's family,
community, country, all human beings, the world at large.79 The compassion
metaphor, which directly emanates from the link image schema based on bodily
experiences of linkage, is in this psalm projected from the human bodily domain
onto the divine domain and reflected back from the divine domain onto the
human bodily domain (similar to the royal metaphor). In this way the special
relationship between the divine and humankind is created and secured. The same
quality of compassion does not, however, exist in the relationship between

75. No mention is made in the psalm of any ranking order among humans.
76. Leder, Absent Body, 162.
77. Johnson, The Body in the Mind, 124.
78. Ibid., 125.
79. Leder, Absent Body, 163.
COETZEE "Yet thou hast made him little less than God" 105

humankind and the animal world in this psalm. In the Hebrew tradition, the
extension of compassion even to the non-human world was somewhat foreign
and especially focused on the smaller social circlesnamely, the family, clan,
and tribe. The humananimal relationship, even in this psalm, is rather a rela-
tionship in which strong dominion is exercised by humankind over all the
animals on the earth.80 It thus becomes evident that the center-periphery image
schema, the link image schema, and the compassion metaphor mutually form the
bodily base for the psalmist's argument of persuasion that God-loving humans
have to control the rival forces, which might impinge on human life and good
Another important but final aspect of the principle of forming one body with
the world around us as reflected in the psalm, is the experience of absorption.
Where compassion forms the base for this principle in the moral sphere, absorp-
tion is found in the aesthetic sphere. Through visual experience the psalmist
absorbs the works of Yahweh's fingers in the night sky into his body. But he
also becomes absorbed into the celestial sky and world around him. As Leder
puts it, "When we become deeply absorbed, as in a natural landscape, it is as if
we were swallowed into a larger body."81 The result is that this experience of
absorption generates in me bigger ideas than before. Within the wider perspec-
tive I experience my own smallness. Inspired thoughts come forward from my
experience.82 My sensori-motor involvement in the situation brings about joyful
ecstatic experience. I become astonished by this bidirectional incorporation.83
The psalmist bursts out in awe:
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!... When I look at thy
heavens, the work of thy fingers.. .what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son
of man that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and
dost crown him with glory and honor. Thou hast given him dominion over the works of
thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet. (Ps 8:1, 3-6)
The bodily experience of linkage, which generated the mental link image
schema and the feeling of one-bodiedness, is brought to a climax in the psalm by
means of these metaphors inspired by awe.

5. Conclusion
In the above exposition of Ps 8 the main emphasis was on the hypothesis that the
psalmist's rhetoric is bodily based. The argumentation of the psalmist was not
discussed in detail but rather the body mechanics behind the arguments were
explored. The exigency of the rhetorical situation was identified as the human
desire to execute power over enemies and over the threat of the animal world. In

80. Almost all interpreters of this psalm assume that the analogy between the royal divine and
the royal human implies compassion in both relations, denoting the psalm as an example text for
ecological interpretation. However, this, in my opinion, cannot be derived directly from the text.
81. Leder, Absent Body, 165.
82. Ibid.
83. Ibid., 166.
106 "My Words Are Lovely "

order to neutralize this exigency, the central position of humankind in God's

creation is emphasized by the psalmist by means of an argument of hierarchy,
namely, God, humankind, and the animal world. The psalmist's argumentation
is based on an analogy between God as the highest ruler over the works of his
hands and over his enemies, and humankind's rulership over the threat of the
animal world. The praise of Yahweh, which frames the psalm, as well as the
psalmist's argumentation about the ruling power bestowed upon humankind by
God, form the strongest arguments from authority in the rhetoric of the psalm in
order to neutralize the exigency of human and animal threat.
Through bodily involvement with Yahweh's heavenly and earthly works, the
psalmist experiences communion with God and with his creation. In perceiving
Yahweh's great creation works through the eyes, the psalmist's body transcends
itself through awe and through prayer (religious poetic rhetoric). Each visceral
and sensorimotor function of the body had become a channel for this experience
of communion, put into a metaphorically projected prayer filled with awe for
Yahweh. In this way the supplicant not only effectively persuades those who
listens to his prayer of the fact that humans are invested with royal power by
God to rule over his creation and the enemies, but he also effectively imple-
ments positive politeness towards God through praise and by claiming common
ground with him in order to seek endorsement for what he is claiming in the
prayer and also to satisfy God's need to be praised.
Diane Jacobson

The following is a literal, if awkward, translation of Ps 33:

1. Exult, O Righteous, in Yahweh; O Upright, praise is comely!
2. Thank Yahweh with the lyre; with the ten-stringed harp, chant to him!
3. Sing to him a new song; make beautiful music with a shout!
4. For upright is the word of Yahweh, and all his work is [done] in faithfulness.
5. Loving righteousness and justice; of Yahweh's steadfast love the earth is full.
6. By the word of Yahweh, the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth, all their hosts.
7. Gathering, as in a bottle, the waters of the sea; putting in storehouses the
8. Let all the earth fear Yahweh; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe
of him.
9. For he said, and it was; he commanded, and it stood.
10. Yahweh nullifies the counsel of nations; he thwarts the plans of peoples.
11. The counsel of Yahweh stands forever;
the plans of his heart from generation to generation.
12. Happy the nation whose God is Yahweh, the people he has chosen for his
13. From heaven Yahweh looks and sees all humankind.
14. From die place of his habitation he gazes on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15. Molding altogether their heart, discerning all their works.
16. The king is not saved by a great army; a warrior is not delivered by great
17. A sham is the horse for salvation, and despite its great strength, it provides
no escape.
18. Rather the eye of Yahweh is toward those who fear him,
to those who wait for his faithful love
19. to deliver then- souls from death and to keep them alive in the famine.
20. Our soul awaits Yahweh; our help and shield is he.
21. For in him our heart rejoices; for in his holy name we trust.
22. Let your steadfast love, O Yahweh, be upon us, even as we wait for you.

Psalm 33, alone among all of the psalms, speaks of God's creation by word. My
intention in this study is to explore how this powerful image sets the rhetorical
argument of the psalm. To anticipate my conclusion, the appeal of Ps 33 to the
nature and power of God's far-reaching creative word and work accomplishes
several rhetorical tasks. The Lord is praised for a justly ordered world while we
108 "My Words Are Lovely "

(the audience, the readers, the supplicants) are instructed, comforted, encour-
aged, and finally given grounds to appeal to God's steadfast love.
Not all who have studied this psalm find the appeal to creation by word to be
central. Some, notably Gunkel and Deissler, find the psalm disjointed, with
creation being but one theme among many.1 In contrast to Gunkel, later form
critics Westermann and Albertz perceive Ps 33 to be extremely well ordered.2
They, in fact, use Ps 33 as the primary example of a Descriptive Psalm of Praise,
placing heavy emphasis on the psalm's structure which, they contend, marks a
polarity between the majesty of creation and the grace of historical redemption.
Within this polarity, the theme of creation is divided from and introductory to
the more important theme of salvation.
In contrast, James Luther Mays argues that Ps 33 should be considered a
Torah psalm, a late type of wisdom psalm.3 According to Mays, the aim of this
and other Torah psalms is the obedience of the righteous. Mays argues, in effect,
that Ps 33 deals with obedience to Torah, albeit very indirectly. Notably, the
category of Torah psalm, like its parent category, differs from most genre desig-
nations in that the identification is based on content rather than form. Thus Mays,
taking heed of specific language and metaphor, sets the stage for the rhetorical
analysis presented here.
A rhetorical examination of Ps 33 shows that the psalm exhibits neither a
polarity between creation and redemption nor a randomness in which creation is
merely one theme among many. Rather, Ps 33 is a logically constructed hymn in
which the specific metaphor of creation by divine word plays a central role. In
Ps 33, the parallelism within the verses tends to be evenly balanced and
noticeably square. The logical movement of the psalm is thus found primarily in
the connection between lines, revealing the following structure.4
Verses 1-5 form a two-part introduction in which w. 1-3 serve as a call to
worship and w. 4-5 provide the general reasons for responding to the call.
Verses 6-9 present the primary image of creation by word. Verses 10-12
describe two possible reactions to creationresistance (v. 10) or acceptance
(w. 11-12). Verses 13-15 present the second image of supervision over crea-
tion. Verses 16-19 again describe two possible reactionsreliance on human
might (w. 16-17) or reliance on Yahweh (w. 18-19). Verses 20-23 form the

1. Hermann Gunkel, Die Psalmen ubersetzt underklart (Gdttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
1926), 138-41; Alfons Deissler, "Der Anthologishe Charakter des Psalmes 33," in Melanges
bibliqites rediges en I'honneur de Andre Robert (Paris: Bloud et Gay, 1966), 225-33.
2. Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), 122-30;
Rainer Albertz, Weltschopjung und Menschenschopfung (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1974), 92-93,232.
3. James Luther Mays, "The Place of the Torah-Psalms in the Psalter," JBL 106 (1987): 3-12
(5). The form-critical designation "wisdom psalm" assumes a common class of author rather than a
common form or situation. The designation is usually based on a psalm's use of sapiential vocabu-
lary, forms, and themes. Many such words, forms, and themes are noted below.
4. See Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic, 1985), 22: "where static
parallelism prevails, one may discover that developmental movement is projected from the line to
the larger structure of the poem."
JACOBSON Psalm 33 and the Creation Rhetoric 109

Verses 1-5
Verse 1 sets the tone of Ps 33, exhorting the righteous and upright to praise
Yahweh. mrr stands in the middle, dominating the verse just as the sacred name,
which will be repeated thirteen times, holds sway throughout the psalm. The
specificity of the addressees as "the righteous" and "the upright" tells us who the
supplicants are asked to be in relationship to Yahweh. The verbless clause in the
second half of the verse has the effect of pulling back from direct call to praise
and analyzing the nature of praise itself. Instruction is blended with worship.5
The next two verses expand the opening call to worship, providing an ordered
introduction with the four elementsimperatives, addressees, Yahweh, and
voices and instrumentsintricately interwoven.6 The effect is explicitly aural,
creating a harmonious joyful sound directed to Yahweh.7
Verses 4-5 provide the reasons for praise and begin to build the internal logic
of Ps 33 by detailing the character of God's word and work. Verse 4 introduces
the notion of an independent "word of Yahweh." A vast array of prophetic,
legal, and wisdom/Torah traditions stand behind this phrase. Notably, reference
to the word of Yahweh is regularly found in the Torah psalms.8 Here the word is
described as "12T, an adjective most often used of Yahweh's instruction, judg-
ments, and ways, thus highlighting the connection with the wisdom/Torah
tradition.9 To say that Yahweh's word is upright is to say that such a word is not
only just but, more particularly, that it is well ordered and true.
Verse 4a connects with v. 4b primarily through the shift from "O1 to nfrijg,
from word to deed.10 Just as Yahweh's word has a vast expanse of potential
connections, so also does God's work. In Psalms, HtotfQ refers to the whole or
parts of God's creation, to humans as created, or to divine activity in history.
This work is described as HttQK, which includes within its range of meaning the
notion of truth and stability as well as faithfulness. God's work, like God's
word, makes sense and is not random. The intimate connection between word
and action continues in the description of both creation and history, as will be
shown. The verse is of a piece, the true uprightness of God's word made
manifest in the true faithfulness of God's work.

5. The phrase Hariri rnK3 occurs elsewhere only in the call to worship of Torah psalm Ps 147:1.
6. Neither the verbs nor the instruments in this verse are unusual, though the combined sounds
of sibilants builds to the sound of the new song.
7. Avrohom Feuer, Tehillim (Brooklyn: Mesorah, 1985), 1:393, suggests, 'They will all rejoice
with musical instruments, because the symmetry and coordination of all the forces in the universe
resemble the harmony and precision of superbly tuned instruments playing a well orchestrated
8. Note Ps 147 and particularly Ps 119 which refers to Yahweh's word twenty-three times and
is closely associated with Torah and decrees.
9. See the Torah psalms Pss 19:9; 25:8; 111:8; 119:137 as well as Hos 14:10 and Deut 32:4.
10. Though deed already comprises part of the meaning of "HI, the movement to HtoiJD
emphasizes contiguity over similarity. See Adele Berlin, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), 7,91,140, and Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, 35.
110 "My Words Are Lovely "

The thoughts of v. 4 are expanded in v. 5, which speaks of Yahweh as a lover

of righteousness and justice.11 The initial participle 2HK appears at first to be
floating without an antecedent. Only in the second half of the verse is the subject
clarified, thus pressing the introduction towards the final phrase. Verse 5b
functions as the "summary conclusion" of the introductory hymn. The upright-
ness of the word, the faithfulness of the work, and the love of righteousness and
justice are gathered up in and related to the world through niiT "ron. The
expectation is that Tins fills the earth as in Pss 57.11; 72.19; 108.5; cf. also Num
14.21; Isa 6.3. Only here and in Ps 119.64, a Torah psalm, is the earth full of TOH.
Divine ion, characterized by care, loyalty, devotion, and faithfulness, does not
exist in Ps 33 apart from qualities of righteousness, justice, and uprightness.
Verses 4 and 5 are thus connected to each other primarily through the cluster
of terms marked both by parallels and by broken (TODX/TOn) and unbroken
(tDSSDQ^ npns) merisms. Similar clusters are found in numerous other passages,
but the application of uprightness, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice to
word and deed draws Ps 33 most clearly into the circle of Torah psalms. In the
other Torah psalms the similarly characterized word and work of God are
embodied in commands and precepts.12 But what is spoken of as the upright and
truthful law in other Torah psalms is, in Ps 33, broadened and related to the
whole of God's word and work. An implicit argument is being made that all of
God's word and the whole of God's work operates just as Torah operates
truthfully, justly, faithfully.
Verses 4-5 complete the opening proclamation. Within these verses the
D^TS? addressed in v. 1 are transformed in v. 5 into abstract nj?"$ that Yahweh
loves. The praise of the D'Htf; (v. 1) is comely precisely because Yahweh's word
is itself 19; (v. 4); human song responds to divine word. The order of p"TC and
"ICT in v. 1 is inverted in w. 45, forming an inclusio and drawing together
w. 1-3 and 4-5. To an extent, w. 1-5 are thus set apart as an introductory
hymn which is complete in itself. The message of w. 1-5 is then expanded and
made concrete in the remainder of Ps 33. At the same time, making a break after
v. 5 is somewhat arbitrary.

Verses 6-9
The movement from w. 45 to v. 6 is fluid, with v. 6 repeating four of the
words of v. 4 and twice repeating the movement from word to action. But now
Yahweh's general, all encompassing word and action become the specific word
and action of creation.
Centrally important in v. 6 is the repetition of mm 13"|. The very word of
God, which has been identified as upright and associated with trustworthiness,

11. Perdue suggests that within wisdom circles riRTS represents the very cosmic order which
permeates the universe and thereby links cosmic to social order, see Leo Perdue, "Cosmology and the
Social Order in the Wisdom Tradition," in The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East (ed. John
Gammie and Leo Perdue; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 457-78.
12. Note particularly Pss 19; 111; 119.
JACOBSON Psalm 33 and the Creation Rhetoric 111

justice, righteousness, and faithfulness, becomes the instrument of creation.

Creation by word, therefore, suggests a creation marked by integrity and pur-
pose. More than this, creation by word resonates metaphorically with creation
by Torah, an idea supported by the specific object of creationthe heavens.
While in part a synecdochic substitution for all creation, DIDti carries its own
signification. Elsewhere, the heavens provide the prime example not only of
beauty and wonder, but also of perfection, order, and faithfulness, particularly
when created by the divine word. Note particularly Torah psalm Ps 19.1 where
the "heavens declare the glory of God"; an idea paralleled in the second half of
that psalm by the commandments and precepts of Torah. The very order of
Torah is told by the heavens not through words but through astute listening. In
Ps 89.2, HttDK is established in the heavens, and in the very central w. 89-91 of
the ultimate Torah psalm, Ps 119, Yahweh's word stands eternally firm in the
heavens. Heaven, as the dwelling place of God rather than humanity, is only
distantly, abstractly related to humans. Human participation is limited to
observation, acute listening, and appropriate response/obedience to the good and
true order of the heavens.
In the second half of v. 6 miT "Q"[ is transformed into VS rpn. The divine rpn
is most frequently invoked in contexts either of judgment or of imparting life to
humans and other living beings. The context of v. 6 evokes the latter meaning,
suggesting that the heavenly hosts are here imbued with a life-force. The VS rpn
provides movement to the 13"1; the word takes on the physical substance of wind
and breath whereby the speaking can be felt as well as heard. The hosts, an
extension of heaven, as the suffix indicates, include angels and divine armies, as
well as to the sun, moon, and stars, thus contributing to the sense of the grandeur
of the creation.13
Verse 7 moves the creative action of the word further in the direction of
purposeful arrangement through two parallel images, each begun with a partici-
ple. The gathering of the waters as in a bottle coupled with placing the deeps in
storehouses paints a picture in which Yahweh carefully orders and controls the
potentially chaotic waters by reducing them to the status of natural resources
and storing them up to fulfill Yahweh's future designs of blessing and judg-
ment.14 The waters have potential use and purpose; they are contained within the
divine plan of creation. The instrument of containment is the breath and word of
God with its ties to uprightness and faithfulness.

13. Striking in the mention of the "hosts" is the subtle allusion to and completion of the divine
title, DTias mrr. mm of v. 6a creates the heavenly rnias who end v. 6b. The breakup of the divine
title fits well into me pattern of post-exilic times during which the title is no longer in vogue. Heaven
becomes Yahweh's abode; and "name theology" (v. 21b) comes into prominence. See Tryggve N. D.
Mettinger, The Dethronement ofSabaoth: Studies in the Shem andKabod Theology (Lund: Gleerup,
14. This activity is described in such a way as to allow Exod 15:8 to hover in the background
because of the wordplay of the second word, which can be translated "as a heap," reflecting the MT
"T3?. The parallel term, rfn^fc?, suggests that the alternative reading, "ftS, "as in a bottle," following
the LXX as well as the Syriac, Old Latin, Jerome, the Targum, and Symmachus Greek, stands in the
112 "My Words Are Lovely "

The mention of the sea as the second element of creation is to be expected.15

One would expect the psalm to move now to the creation of the earth. Though
containment of the waters might well imply the creation of the earth, the earth is
not actually mentioned as an object of creation. Instead, the earth and its
inhabitants stand in v. 8 as recipients of commanding instruction. In the midst of
proclamation comes instruction and command, recalling v. 1. The two parallel
jussives, 1XT? and }"W, have a broad range of meanings from raw terror to
obedience. The use of the particular construction mm? }KT? calls to mind the
technical expression mm nX"T, which, in the later wisdom tradition and particu-
larly in the Torah psalm Ps 19, denotes obedience and devotion to the law.16 As
in Ps 19, creation provides a reason to fear God in this sense of obeying God's
law, further suggesting that fearing Yahweh's creative word and obeying Torah
are related responses. In v. 8, the call is issued first to the general earth, and then
narrowed to its inhabitants. All people are enjoined to fear. The universal activ-
ity of creation invites universal response. The actions of the people, called forth
with imperatives and jussives, surround the actions of Yahweh, performed with
perfects and participles.
However, this section of Ps 33 does not end with the response of the people.
Rather, the call to fear is issued in the midst of the description of the creative
word. Psalm 33 returns to that description in v. 9, which begins with a second
?, this time marking a reason to fear. "Let all the earth and its inhabitants fear"
because (?) that which Yahweh says and commands shall be done. The verbs
intensify from mere "saying" to "commanding," taking us once more into the
realm of obedience. The response moves from "being" to active "standing."
Verse 9 stands out not only in its perfect balance and succinctness, but
particularly in its multiple relationships with other passages in Scripture. Most
notably, it connects with the repeated pattern of Gen 1 .. .VPl.. .QVfrK "1QK9!, a
link already suggested in v. 6. However, the language of speaking and being, of
commanding and standing, occurs also in the prophets, particularly Second
Isaiah (Isa 45:23; 48:13), and in later reflection on the law in general, particu-
larly in the Torah psalms (Pss 147:15-20; 148:5-6). That which is commanded is
done.17 The close tie between the creative word and the law has concrete impli-
cations; human response is tied to cosmic response. Just as the heavens, the
earth, and the seas dared not fail to respond to God's word, neither can human
beings fail in their response.
Similar connections are made internally. At one level v. 9 reiterates w. 6-7,
not through verbal repetition but rather through an abstraction of the movement
of w. 6-7. Verse 9, like w. 6-7, speaks of God's word in creation, a word
which produces action. In the make-up of creation, response is part of the word

15. See Richard Clifford, Psalms 1-72 (AOTC; Nashville: Abingdon: 2002), 170, who makes
much of w. 6-11 describing the three spheres of heaven, sea, and earth.
16. "Fear of the Lord" occurs fourteen times in Proverbs and twenty times in Sirach.
17. John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms (trans, and ed. H. Beveridge; Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1979), 4:545, interestingly comments that "in this nod, or command, the eternal
wisdom of God displayed itself."
JACOBSON Psalm 33 and the Creation Rhetoric 113

even as it is spoken. The heavens and their hosts simply in their being are
respondents, and the sea responds particularly in its "standing."18
Verse 9 is also linked to v. 4. Both begin withn?; both deal with Yahweh's
word and action; and in both verses the text points beyond creation to the
general word and action of Yahweh. Verses 4 and 9 thus form an indusio which
connects w. 4-5 as solidly to w. 6-9 as to w. 1-3 and further serves as a
reminder that this divine word which produces action is upright and faithful.
On a more immediate level, v. 9 is logically tied to v. 8 by providing the
world's inhabitants with a reason to fear the Lord. Fear because what God says
will be, and what God commands shall stand. The people fear in reaction to
God's cosmic power and command, which must be obeyed. The obedience of
the people parallels the obedience of the land and is tied to the cosmic obedience
of the heavens, the hosts, and the waters. The law of the cosmos unites with the
law which people are called upon to obey.
The specific appeal of w. 6-9 both shapes and adapts to the message of Ps
33. Creation is shown to be neither random nor morally neutral, but rather
results from the upright word of God committed to faithful activity. Creation of
the heavens and the gathering of the waters provide the prime example of this
arrangement. Though the earth is kept at a distance, Yahweh's relationship with
the world remains central. The operative mode of creation is not only word but
also command, explicitly cosmic but implicitly related to Torah. Response is
both the work of God, inherent in the very order of creation, and obedience to
God, part of the called-for reaction to creation. Word and action, command and
response, all intertwine. The call to the people to respond comes in the midst of
the description of God's word and activity in creation. Human response becomes
an extension of cosmic response. This intertwining sets the stage for the analysis
which follows, most immediately in w. 10-12, of all human activity and

Verses 10-12
Initially, w. 10-12 appear to move Ps 33 in a new direction, out of the realm of
creation and into the realm of history. Verse 10 speaks of "nations" and
"peoples" who possess a sense of autonomy which permits them to make plans
and to scheme. However, to view w. 10-12 as separate from w. 6-9 is, in a
sense, to fall into the very trap which ensnares the nations themselves. The
nations imagine that they are in control of history and remain unimpressed with
Yahweh, whose word created the heavens; they fail to see the connection.
Yahweh's actions remain the controlling force. Yahweh now "nullifies" and
"thwarts," once again combining the notions of word and action, but now taking
on the more aggressive character expected in opposition to the sea. In v. 11,
Yahweh's counsel and plans stand eternally in contrast to the annulled council

18. Once again a subtle connection is made between creation and the parting of the seas in
114 "My Words Are Lovely "

and plans of the nations.19 Yahweh's counsel and the plans of his heart
specifically recall Yahweh's word and the breath of his mouth,20 expanding the
meaning of the 'Svord" once more to include the notion of order.21 While in v. 9
the subject which "stands" in response to Yahweh's command is intentionally
ambiguous, in v. 11 the word/command/counsel/plan itself "stands" for all time
and across all generations.
The word of creation includes within its scope and intent the world of human
activity. When the nations follow their own counsel, they not only stand in
conflict with the divine word, they oppose the very order of creation and set
themselves apart from the designated role of all humanity within creationthey
fail to fear Yahweh. Such action cannot possibly be effective. The nations are
not only nullified and thwarted, they are, in w. 9 and 11, surrounded by the
permanence of God's creative intent.
Verse 12 introduces the one nation and people who stand in contrast with the
nations and peoples of v. 10. The plans of this nation do not stand in opposition
to God. Rather, their God is Yahweh, and this people acts properly in response
to the God of creation. However, though v. 12a can be read as a commendation
of this nation's activity, the verse as a whole is not without ambiguity. That
Yahweh is the God of this one nation can be seen as a consequence of God's
will rather than a result of their own behavior. Verse 12 thus reflects the same
tension found in w. 6-9 between the work of God and the response of creation.
The chosen status of one nation constitutes part of the overall plan of Yahweh,
but the proper behavior of the people also plays a part. Yahweh remains in
control; the people respond by aligning themselves with Yahweh in an act of
'Voluntary heteronomy."22
Although v. 12 is tied specifically to w. 10-11, this central verse also stands
in partial isolation, breaking the previous pattern of highly balanced half-verses.
The 'HJBK form also sets the verse apart.23 "Htftf introduces both cultic blessing
and wisdom observation as to the nature of reality. This nation, called upon to
praise and fear Yahweh, in fact belongs to Yahweh as an inheritance.
The proclamation of Ps 33 has progressed. All the earth and its inhabitants
were commanded to respond to God's creative word with fear. Verses 10-12
introduce two types of nations: those who oppose Yahweh's word and whose
plans are thwarted; and those who accept Yahweh and are chosen for his inheri-
tance. The freedom of the nations to choose and the control of the nations by
Yahweh are held in tension. Just as the word of God in w. 9 and 11 surrounded

19. Note the similar passages in Jer 49:20; 50:45; Mic 4:11-12; and particularly, Prov 19:21.
20. Yahweh's mouth, the source of the word, becomes Yahweh's heart/mind, the source of the
21. See also Isa 40:8, 15, 23 and note the similar parallel found in Isa 8:10 where the prophet
addresses the nations.
22. See Jon Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil (San Francisco: Harper & Row,
1988), 135.
23. Note that sentences beginning with 'HB'X often stand at the beginning, end, or in the precise
middle of a psalm. See Pss 1:1; 2:12; 32:2; 94:12; 119:1-2; and especially 144:15. Almost all of the
occurrences of "HefK are found in psalms (often Torah psalms) and Proverbs.
JACOBSON Psalm 33 and the Creation Rhetoric 115

the "nations" in v. 10, so the two different kinds of peoples described in w. 10

and 12 surround God's eternal counsel in v. 11. Verses 10-12 stand therefore as
a significant conclusion to the first half of Ps 33, and the first half together now
provides the context for w. 13-22.

Verses 13-15
Verses 13-15 begin a new movement dominated by verbs of seeing rather than
speaking. Verses 13-15 structurally correspond to w. 6-9, while w. 16-19,
which present two alternative responses to divine sight, correspond to w. 10-
12. The argument both progresses beyond and parallels what has come before.
These verses emphasize four component parts: (1) Yahweh, (2) place designa-
tions, (3) verbs of seeing, and (4) phrases indicating who and what are seen. A
fifth component, the formation of the human heart, stands on its own.
Yahweh, the first component, stands at the center of v. 13 and continues to be
the subject of all the verbs.24 Yahweh's place, the second component, is the
heavens. Thus the initial object of creation by word now specifically designates
the place of divine dwelling. Through the verbs of seeing, the third component,
divine sight, functions as a parallel to divine speaking. Just as the same word of
God can both judge and save, so also the sight of God can indicate both
judgment and comfort.25 Both are related to righteousness and compassion, and
both lead to action. The movement of the psalm has changed only in so far as
the operative metaphor has changed. Yahweh builds heaven by means of the all-
encompassing word and rules from heaven by means of the all-knowing sight.
The fourth component, the objects which Yahweh sees, clarifies the parallel
movement of the psalm. The repeated use of ^3 recalls v. 8, in which all the
earth and all her inhabitants were called upon to fear Yahweh. Now Yahweh
sees these same inhabitants from heaven and judges the quality of their reaction.
The interrelationship between Yahweh's action and the people's reaction
remains key.
Verse 15 interrupts the twice-repeated contiguous flow with an expanded
description of the activity of the one who looks down from heaven. Yahweh
molds human hearts altogether, thereby discerning all their works. Identifying
Yahweh as *itfn of the human heart suggests both creation and pre-ordaining.
The one who forms a thing understands it intimately by virtue of having formed
it in a specific mold.26 Verse 15 solidifies the connection between creation and
understanding. The one who molds human hearts is the one who discerns all

24. Of the thirteen times the divine name m!T is used in Ps 33, it is found at the center of w. 1,4,
12,13, and 20, marking either the beginning of a section or, in v. 12, the midpoint of the psalm.
25. Although Yahweh's looking down can be an act of mercy (Pss 80:15; 102:20-21), in other
circumstances it constitutes an act of judgment (Ps 104:32). Particularly in the wisdom tradition,
divine sight denotes an omniscient God (Job 28:24) who judges both the righteous and the wicked
(Job 31:4; 34:21; Prov 5:21; 15:3).
26. Note particularly Isa 29:16, one of several passages in which Yahweh as a potter (1^)
knows all there is to know of a thing by virtue of being the one who created it.
116 "My Words Are Lovely"

human activity. Creation implies knowledge, a type of sight which expands the
metaphor of w. 13-14 and effectively unites the notions of creation and seeing.
The description of God in v. 15 has three significant ties to the first half of
Ps 33:
1. The movement from human hearts to all their works (DrrfWfQ"^) recalls
the movement in v. 4 from God's word to all his work (irrtolJD"1?^).
Together with picking up the reference to Yahweh's "heart" in v. 11,
the external order of the world is thereby connected to the internal
workings of the human heart, which are expected to comply with God's
2. Verse 15, like v. 7, uses participles to speak of God's creative activity,
and in both verses its use results in partial syntactical isolation. These
participles, together with the participle in v. 5, are thus grammatically
united. Yahweh as creator of the human heart and gatherer of the waters
in an act of creation is tied to Yahweh as lover of righteousness and
3. The reference to creation links v. 15 to w. 6-12 not so much through
vocabulary and grammar as through logic and the nature of the appeal.
In the creation of both internal hearts and external world, divine control
and omniscience judges and even disallows those human plans which
run counter to creative intent. As becomes clear, judgment is not so
much a separate stage after creation as a necessary aspect of the
creative process.

Verses 16-19
Just as w. 10-12 describe two sorts of nations, so also w. 16-19 envision two
alternative sources of deliverance. Verses 16-17 expand the description of those
whose plans are contrary to the counsel of Yahweh with a description of false
reliance on military strength. These verses paint a finely balanced picture of
reliance on king, army, warrior, and horse through an intricate web of terms for
power and might on one hand, and rescue and deliverance on the other. Refer-
ence to rescue, particularly the double use of the root 1KZT, marks a turning
toward the issue of salvation as a movement within the context of creation. The
creator of all human hearts is watching from heaven this search for deliverance.
Most striking in w. 16-17 is the preponderance of negative words: a warrior
is not (??) rescued; strength does not (K^) deliver; there is not (pK) self-saving
for the king; and the horse is a sham, a lie (")f>2?) for salvation. The negativity of
v. 17a rests within the meaning of the noun. Calling the horse "a lie" specifically
draws this verse into the circle of the legal and wisdom traditions. Not only will
the horse not save, but also the horse is not true; its role for salvation opposes
the word and work of Yahweh.27 Verses 16-17 are the only two verses in which

27. Throughout Scripture, the horse's great power is the subject of suspicion, promising only
false salvation. Note specifically Ps 147:10-11 and Prov 21:31.
JACOBSON Psalm 33 and the Creation Rhetoric 117

Yahweh is not active or mentioned. These negative verses are godless just as
people who rely on false power are themselves godless. They have chosen to
close themselves off from truth by deceptive self-reliance, and thus God's truth,
indeed God, is absent.
Verses 18-19, introduced by the attention demanding nan, offer an alternative
vision to false security and the absence of God. The operative metaphor
expands; the intangible sight of w. 13-15 becomes the concrete "eye," just as
the earlier metaphor moves from the intangible word to the concrete "mouth."
This movement also involves a shift in effect. Whereas in w. 13-15 divine sight
denotes divine omniscience which might affect people for good or for ill, here
the watchful eye is experienced as entirely gracious. The negative passive
Niphal, ^r (v. 16) is now transformed into an active Hiphil, ^n (v. 19). The
object Qtf?2> which refers to the whole person, and the parallel verb rfrn, which
includes in its range of meaning both sustaining and reviving life, give new
depth to the language of deliverance. Deliverance is now more than a matter of
victory in battle obtained by brute strength; Yahweh delivers from death itself
and, beyond this, positively provides life. Verse 19 introduces the natural
disaster of a famine which no amount of martial strength can forestall. Only the
God who controls life and nature, only the God of creation, can deliver souls
from death and provide life in famine.
Notably, this alteration is not due to a change in the divine perspective but
rather to the specific nature of the people now in sight. The people are VKT,
those who fear Yahweh, who rightly respond to the jussives of v. 8. They do not
fear his eye turned upon them. Rather, in v. 18b, they are identified as "those
who wait for his "ion." The people who began with praise and continued with
obedience and recognition now add waiting.
Unlike w. 16-17 where God is absent, in vv. 18-19 God is present and once
more subject of the action. The people have a role to play in that they fear
Yahweh and await Yahweh's faithful love, but their activity is that of response
rather than control, thereby recalling the tension found in w. 10-12. Freedom of
choice exists in that people can choose the lie of self-dependence, which leads to
death. However, the controlling presence is Yahweh's. Yahweh saves; Yahweh
delivers; Yahweh preserves life. This text reflects the experience of the
righteous, just as vv. 16-17 reflect the experience of the wicked. Both are under
the watchful eye of Yahweh: one experiences this watchfulness as defeat; the
other experiences the look of compassion and steadfast devotion. For those who
fear the Lord, judgment is "ion. To be under the eye of God is to be saved.
The psalm now moves to closure with a three-verse refrain sung by the
righteous in response to the three-verse call to worship and in light of the
intervening verses.

Verses 20-22
Verses 20-22 respond to the opening call in a manner specifically appropriate
to Ps 33. Verse 20 identifies the singers of Ps 33 with the ones whom Yahweh
saves from death in w. 18-19. "Our soul" recalls "their soul." "We await
118 "My Words Are Lovely "

Yahweh" recalls "those who wait for his faithful love." And Yahweh is
identified as "our help and shield," a shield more substantial than the army and
horses of those whose military help remains earthbound. The Kin whose speech
and command leads to action (v. 9) now offers protection.
Verse 21 continues the identification with the righteous, using a double "*? to
signal the proclamation. The singers respond to the call to praise by proclaiming
that their hearts, hearts which Yahweh made in v. 15, rejoice in Yahweh. The
workings of the hearts of the righteous are open for inspection; they are doing
precisely what they were created to do. The verse continues by expanding the
activities of the righteous one final time. The people not only praise, fear, and
wait for Yahweh; they totally rely on Yahweh's holy name, in contrast to the
wicked who rely on their own plans and strengths. This reliance opens the door
for the final, direct petition.
Verse 22 moves Ps 33 dramatically from praise to petition, reaching the final
object of the psalm's rhetorical argument. The psalm which has been indirect
and often didactic now pleads with God directly identifying the supplicants
throughout w. 20-22 as "us" and in this final verse addressing Yahweh as
"you." Most immediately, the people entreat Yahweh to heed the implications of
w. 20-21. Yet the initial TP also ties v. 22 to v. 9, thus placing the final petition
precisely in the context of reliance on Yahweh's creative and effective word and
implying that God's response to our pleas is as naturally a part of the created
order as is all of creation standing in response to God's word.
Yahweh's "ion, which fills the earth because of the true and just nature of
God's word, is the object of the petition. The final phrase, "even as we wait for
you," insures that this petition is based on the prior logic and proclamation of Ps
33. In v. 18, Yahweh's eye looks with compassion on those who wait on his
ion. Now the petitioners identify themselves precisely as those who wait for
Yahweh. Though the petition draws attention to the activity of the righteous, the
initiative belongs once again to Yahweh. The petitioners, through faithful wait-
ing, have aligned themselves with the "natural" order of response. Now Yahweh
is fully expected to exercise the divine "Ton which underlies the pattern of crea-
tion. The conclusion matches the psalm and brings it to a satisfactory close.

The detailed literary examination of Ps 33 reveals a precise, if somewhat com-
plicated, message that due to the upright, true, just, and faithful nature of the
divine word and work, Yahweh merits praise, obedience, fear, and trust.
Creation in Ps 33 not only serves as an example of God's work but also provides
a cosmic model for appropriate response to God's word. Yahweh's word, which
is upright and leads to faithful work, creates a universe which has order and
purpose. Creation by word describes a world marked by obedience to divine
command. Within cosmic creation, whatever God says is done; Yahweh's
command produces effect without question. The faithful work of Yahweh and
the response of creation unite as one.
JACOBSON Psalm 33 and the Creation Rhetoric 119

The response of creation includes human response, insuring that history

constitutes part of God's created order and remains under God's control. Yet
nations and peoples do exist who trust more in their own devices and plans than
in Yahweh. They fail to recognize the connection between cosmic and social
order and thus shut themselves off from the divine love which sustains the order
and fills all the earth. Other people, however, respond to God's word with fear,
patience, trust, and obedience. These people experience divine "Ton. Such is the
ongoing plan of God that those whom Yahweh has chosen respond as com-
manded. Divine providence and human response are held in tension, allowing
the righteous community both to trust in Yahweh's eternal word and to argue
that their response merits divine care.
The metaphor of creation by word with its pattern of command and response
suggests that the instruction of the Lord is rooted in the very plan of creation.
Obedience to instruction takes on cosmic proportions. The reverse, however, is
also true. The cosmos is created according to the pattern of law. The notion of
law functions in Ps 33 as a sign or guarantee of the stability of creation and of
the promise inherent within creation. This correspondence between law and
creation is similarly apparent in other Torah psalms, most notably Pss 119:89-
91; 147; 148, and pre-eminently Ps 19.
Creation by the upright word of God also insures an intelligible world
permeated and ordered by Yahweh's justice and compassion. The cosmic waters
pose no threat but rather respond to God's word. Within the created world, only
human self-deception, manifest as human reliance on earthly power and plans,
poses a potential threat to God's total control. These puny distractions are
nullified, thwarted, and dismissed as ineffectual. Evil lacks real power or
influence. In Ps 33, even death lacks power. Psalm 33 proclaims an intelligible
world and a God worthy of reverence.
Psalm 33 adds a further dimension. The intelligibility of creation is such that
the chosen nation stands at the heart of the created order. Zimmerli noted that
the conflict between the universalism of wisdom and the particularity of tradi-
tionally conceived Yahwism was ultimately resolved through the identification
of wisdom and Torah.28 Psalm 33 reflects a movement towards such a resolution.
The order of the world and the chosen status of Israel are both linked to right-
eousness, obedience, and Yahweh's faithful love.
Mays suggests that the "basic religious commitment" of the Torah piety
behind Torah psalms such as Ps 33 was "devotion to the instruction of the Lord
and trust in the reign of the Lord" and "its way was faithfulness through study
and obedience and hope through prayer and waiting."29 Analysis of Ps 33, with
its call for responses of obedience, trust, prayer, and waiting, lends specific
support to these conclusions. Though the imperative to study is not explicitly
stated, once again the notion can be detected implicitly. Deissler has argued that

28. Walter Zimmerli, "The Place and Limit of Old Testament Theology," in Studies in Ancient
Israelite Wisdom (ed. J. Crenshaw; New York: Ktav, 1976), 314-26. This identification of Wisdom
and Torah clearly reaches its height in Sir 24, a passage closely tied to wisdom psalms.
29. Mays, "The Place of the Torah-Psalms," 12.
120 "My Words Are Lovely "

Ps 33 was constructed anthologically, that is, the author intentionally imported

images and phrases from other parts of Scripture to compose Ps 33.30 Through-
out this rhetorical analysis, connections have been found with a variety of
texts.31 This wide range of connections gives Ps 33 an all-encompassing range, a
canonical scope. If Ps 33 was indeed constructed anthologically, then the very
manner of composition suggests that part of the Torah piety of the Psalmist was
the study of the law and the prophets.
One final conclusion is in order. Psalm 33 does indeed make a rhetorical
argument. Appeals to God's creative activity reflect and engender obedient
response to and dependence upon Yahweh. This response flows naturally from
those whom Yahweh has chosen for an inheritance. Still in Ps 33 the order of
creation and the chosen status of Yahweh's people are brought together pre-
cisely in a context of praise, not of order or status, but of Yahweh who stands
behind both. Levenson, in his analysis of Ps 104, notes the significance of recog-
nizing the difference between mere contemplation of creation and devotion to
the creator.32 No matter how didactic Ps 33, finally its major call is to praise
Yahweh whose continual and faithful word insures a just and gracious universe
in which those who respond appropriately to God's faithful and steadfast love
are delivered from death.

30. Deissler, "Der Anthologishe Charakter."

31. Note particularly Gen 1; Exod 14; Deut 32:4; Isa 8:10; 40; 48:13; 55:9-11; Jer 9:23-24;
10:12-13; and Prov 15:3; 19:21; 21:30-31.
32. Levenson, Creation, 64.
Nancy L. deClaisse-Walford

Psalm 44 is the first of eleven community laments in the Hebrew Psalter.1 The
voice of the individual lamenter, which the reader has encountered repeatedly up
to this point in the book of Psalms, is supplanted in Ps 44 by the voice of the
community. The words of the psalm suggest that the peoplea gathered com-
munityhave come together in a sanctuary or in the temple in Jerusalem to cry
out to God about a situation of grave dangerperhaps a military attack, a politi-
cal persecution, or some other unjust action against them. The speakers of Ps 44
alternate between the gathered community and a leader in their midstthe com-
munity and a leader who begin with praise to God for God's goodness and
recount God's provisions to the ancestors of Israel (w. 1-8); move on to declare
their innocence to God in the face of the current circumstances and call God to
account for what is happening, that is, accuse God of not remembering the
covenant with them (w. 9-25); and finally offer a concluding prayer to God
(v. 26a).
Psalm 44 is a cry to Goda cry of words. Words play a tremendous role in
our understanding of the faith of our early ancestors in the faith. Words on the
pages of ancient documents tell us much: about the beginnings of this world;
about the encounters of the ancestral generations with God; about the Exodus
from Egypt and the wilderness wanderings; about the entry into the land; about
the establishment of the Davidic monarchy and a nation-state; about the
destruction of that nation-state; and words tell us about the Israelites' struggle to
understand their relationship with God and with other peoples. As words of texts
are strung together one after another, they produce collected words of wonder
and awe; words of story and dialogue; words of judgment and of hope; words of
questioning; words seeking understanding; words written and preserved and
passed on from generation to generation.
Many of the words of the text we remember and can recite:
pTn ran D'lQBJn nx ntir6x *na rrtiins
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...
*$"]K9 Tini? o"l?K"^ mtrr nosh
And God said to Abram, "Go for yourself from your land..."

1. The others are Pss 60; 74; 79; 80; 83; 85; 90; 94; 123; and 137.
122 "My Words Are Lovely "

inx mrr ynfrx njrr ^iner wye

Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one.

A plethora of words appear in the biblical text. The use of words to commu-
nicate and persuade is called rhetoric. Susan E. Gillingham writes that rhetorical
criticism "offers a way of looking at the text as a vehicle of persuasion," and that
the method "asks questions about the arrangement of material and the choice of
the discourse."2 Carl R. Holladay, in an essay in The New Interpreter's Bible
entitled "Contemporary Methods of Reading the Bible," states, "The rhetoric of
a text is essentially part of its literary texture. And if the literary paradigm con-
ceives of what is said in the text as the voice of the text, rhetorical criticism
seeks to identify the distinctive elements of that voice, its patterns of vocal
expression, and how they are arranged in order to convey the message of the
text."3 Phyllis Trible maintains that in rhetorical criticism, "the major clue to
interpretation is the text itself."4
How did the biblical writers use words, find their various voices, arrange the
materials, choose their forms and patterns of discourse, and shape the final
forms of the texts? That is, how did the biblical writers use rhetoric? Then, how
did the ancient Israelites hear and understand the words, the rhetoric? And, how
do we in the twenty-first century hear and understand the words, the rhetoric of
the text?
This article seeks to understand the words, the arrangement of materials, and
the form of discourse used in Ps 44. But I, as the writer of this article, must
begin with a confession. I am not a literary critic, much less a rhetorical critic.
Rather, I am a canonical critic, having spent my career exploring the shape and
shaping of the Hebrew biblical text, in particular the shaping of the book of
Psalms. While studying at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, in the 1990s I
became interested in the shape of the Hebrew Psalter, and read Gerald Wilson's
influential work, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter.5 That led me to ask ques-
tions of the Psalter, such as, "Why these 150 psalms and why in this particular
order? Why, for instance, is Ps 1 placed in the Psalter as Ps 1and not, say,
Ps 52? Why is Ps 89 placed as Ps 89? Why is Ps 145 Ps 145? And so forth.
Would it make any difference?"
I doubt many people trouble themselves over such questions, but the answer I
arrived at was, "Yes." The order and placement of the psalms in the Psalter does
make a difference. For it seems clearly apparent that the Psalter was shaped to
tell a story. The story is that of the life of ancient Israel from the time of the
Davidic monarchy through the postexilic period. And the message of the story
is: God, and God alone, is, and always was meant to be, the true king over

2. Susan E. Gillingham, One Bible, Many Voices: Different Approaches to Biblical Studies
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 182.
3. CarlR. Holladay, "Contemporary Methods of Reading the Bible," NIB 1:125-49(140).
4. Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (OBT; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978), 8.
5. Gerald Henry Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (ed. J. J. M. Roberts; SBLDS 76;
Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1985).

Israel; and the path to right recognition of God as king is observance of and
delight in the Torah, the Instruction of God. With that simpleand yet ever so
complexacknowledgment and adherence, the ancient Israelites could survive
the tumultuous eras of foreign domination to which they were subjected from
the time of the Babylonian exile onward.6
As a canonical critic, I have spent my career looking, for the most part, at the
big picturethe shaping of a book of the Bible to convince the postexilic Israel-
ite people that they could survive as a separate and identifiable entity in a world
in which they were simply one of many vassal nations. Thus the book of Psalms
is a shaping of words to convince. In the process of pondering on this statement,
a question came to mind. Had I perhaps been delving into rhetorical criticism
without really realizing it? Is canonical criticism a "cousin" of rhetorical criti-
Virtually every discussion of the rhetoric of the biblical text references one
seminal work, the 1968 Society of Biblical Literature presidential address of
James Muilenburg. John Barton writes:
There are not many movements in biblical study whose beginning can be exactly dated,
but such is the case with the movement known as "rhetorical criticism." The expression
was coined by James Muilenburg in his presidential address to the Society of Biblical
Literature in December of 1968, which was called "Form Criticism and Beyond."7
Muilenburg took it as a given that form criticism was the dominant mode of study then
adopted by American scholars. He argued that form criticism was perfectly valid and
satisfactory, but that it might be time to move on from its competence in studying
individual pericopes and return to the project of trying to understand texts in their
entirety (there are some resemblances here to early canon criticism). What was needed,
Muilenburg suggested, was a close attention to the articulation of biblical texts, so that
one might see how the argument of chapters and books is constructed and thus how it is
that chapters and books have persuasive ("rhetorical") force with their readers.8

If rhetorical criticism is defined as "the articulation of biblical texts, under-

standing texts in their entirety, how the argument of chapters and books is
constructed," then that does indeed sound like the end I have been pursuing in
my work as a canonical critic. So might we be permitted to speak of both macro-
and micro-rhetorical constructions of texts?
A study of the shaping of the Hebrew Psalter suggests that it was fashioned
into its final form during the postexilic period to persuade a community of
people who no longer existed as an identifiable political entity with king and
courtthe trappings of nationhood in the ancient Near Eastthat they could
survive and flourish as a religious nation with temple and Torah. The people
could not have an earthly king, a national capital, or autonomy in the world.
They were vassals to one great kingdom after anotherthe Persians, the Greeks,

6. For a full treatment of the "story" of the Psalter, see Nancy L. deClaiss^-Walford, Intro-
duction to the Psalms: A Song from Ancient Israel (St. Louis: Chalice, 2004) and Reading from the
Beginning: The Shaping of the Hebrew Psalter (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1997).
7. See James Muilenburg, "Form Criticism and Beyond," JBL 88 (1969): 1-18.
8. John Barton, Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study (rev. and enlarged ed.;
Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 199 (emphasis original).
124 "Afy Words Are Lovely"

the Romans. But the people could survive as a nation faithful to the Yahweh
God of the Hebrew Scriptures.
This is macro-story of the Psalter, a masterful piece of rhetoric, of canonical
shaping. The question posed is: Do we find the same rhetorical, canonical
functioning in the micro-structure of the Psalter? Let us use Ps 44 as a test case.
In Rhetorical Criticism: Context, Method, and the Book of Jonah, Phyllis
Trible suggests that the following are important in studying the rhetoric of a
text: (1) the beginning and ending of the text; (2) repetition of words, phrases,
and sentences; (3) types of discourse; (4) design and structure; (5) plot
development; (6) character portrayals; (7) syntax; and (8) particles.9 How are
these elements represented in Ps 44 and what can they tell us about the rhetoric
of the psalm?
First, the reader will recall that Ps 44 is the first of eleven community laments
in the Hebrew Psalter. The words of the psalm suggest that the people have
gathered together in a sanctuary or in the temple in Jerusalem to cry out to God
about a situation of grave danger. And the speakers of Ps 44 alternate between
the gathered community and a leader in their midst.
Second, laments in the Hebrew Psalter follow, for the most part, a somewhat
fixed structure. The elements of the structure, as identified by scholars, vary
anywhere from four to eight elements, but here we will enumerate five elements
in a lament:10
1. Invocation
2. Complaint (Lament)
3. Petition
4. Expression of Trust
5. Promise of Praise

9. Phyllis Trible, Rhetorical Criticism: Context, Method, and the Book of Jonah (GBS; Minnea-
polis: Fortress, 1994).
10. Hermann Gunkel, in The Psalms: A Form-Critical Introduction (trans. Thomas M. Homer;
FBBS; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967; German original, 1930), 21, discusses three elements to the
individual lament: invocation, body with laments or supplication, and concluding vows. W. H.
Bellinger, Jr., in Psalms: Reading and Studying the Book of Praises (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson,
1990), 45-46, cites four elements in a lament psalm: invocation, complaint, petition, and expression
of confidence. This four-fold division is a simplification of his previous six-element analysis, found
in Psalmody and Prophecy (JSOTSup 27; Sheffield: JSOT, 1984), 22-24. James Limburg, in Psalms
(Westminster Bible Companion; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 8, cites three
elements in a lament psalm: complaint, affirmation of trust, and call for help or request. J. Clinton
McCann, Jr., "The Book of Psalms," NIB 4:639-1280 (644-45), outlines five elements: opening
address, description of trouble or distress, plea or petition to God, profession of trust or confidence in
God, and promise or vow to praise God or to offer a sacrifice. Erhard Gerstenberger, in Psalms
(FOTL 14; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 10-14, separates laments or dirges from complaints.
Dirges have five elements: moaning and wailing, description of catastrophe, reference to former
bliss, call to weep and wail, and subdued plea. I have adopted a five-fold format for the lament, but
with somewhat different category titles than McCann uses: invocation, complaint, petition,
expression of trust, and expression of praise. This is modified from my own previous four-fold
division. See deClaisse-Walford, Reading from the Beginning, 50.

How these five elements fit into the overall structure and language of Ps 44 is
outlined below:11

Psalm 44: For the Leader. A Maskil According to the Korahites

Invocation and Trust:
1 O God, with our ears we have heard.
Our ancestors have recounted to us
the works which you accomplished in their days,
in the days of the beginnings.
2 You, with your own hand, you have driven out nations,
but you planted them.
You have broken peoples,
but you have sent them forth.
3 For not with their swords did they take possession of a land,
and their power will not deliver them.
But with your right hand and your power and the light of your face,
because you delighted in them.
4 You are indeed my king, O God.
4b Command the deliverances of Jacob.
5 With you our oppressors we will beat down;
with your name we will crush the ones who rise up against us.
6 For not in my bow will I trust,
and my sword will not deliver me.
7 For you have delivered us from our oppressors,
and the ones who hate us you have put to shame.
8 In God we have celebrated all day long,
and your name for all time we will praise, selah
9 Yet you have rejected and you reproach us;
you do not go forth with our armies.
10 You cause us to turn back from an oppressor
and the ones who hate us have plundered for themselves.
11 You give us like a flock of sheep as food,
and among the nations you have scattered us.
12 You sell your people for nothing,
and you make no profit on their purchase.
13 You make us an object of scorn to our neighbors,
a mockery and an object of ridicule to those around us.
14 You make us a proverb among the nations,
a shaking of the head among the peoples.

11. This division of Ps 44 into sections is very different from the division of the text suggested
by many commentators and by the verse groupings of the NRSV translation. Further, note that the
verse numbers follow the English text versification.
126 "My Words Are Lovely "

15 All day long my reproach is in front of me,

and the shame of my face has covered me,
16 because of the noise of the one despising and the one reviling,
because of the face of the one abhorring and the one being revengeful.
17 All of this has come to us, and we have not forgotten you;
we have not acted falsely with your covenant
18 We have not drawn back our heart,
nor did our steps turn from your way.
19 But you have crushed us in a place of a sea monster,
and you have covered us over with a shadow of death.
20 If we had forgotten the name of our God,
and we had spread the palms of our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God spy this out?
For God knows the hidden things of the heart.
22 But because of you we are slain every day;
we are reckoned as a flock of sheep for slaughter.

23 Awaken! Why do you sleep, my Lord?
Rise! Do not reject forever.

24 Why do you hide your face,
and forget our affliction and our oppression?
25 For our being has sunk down to the dust,
our inmost part has clung to the earth.

26 Arise, be a help for us,
and redeem us because of your hesld.

The five elements of the lament psalm, then, are represented in Ps 44 as follows:
Invocation v. 1 community
Expression of Trust w. l-4a 1-3 community; 4a leader
Petition v. 4b leader
Expression of Trust w. 5-8 5,7-8 community; 6 leader
Complaint w. 9-22 9-14 community
15-16 leader
17-22 community
Petition v. 23 leader
Complaint w. 24-25 community
Petition v. 26 community

Verses 1-8 are an almost uninterrupted Expression of Trust in the mingled

voices of the gathered community and an individual leader, with a brief Petition
from the voice of the leader at 4b"Command the deliverances of Jacob."12

12. I have chosen not to emend the imperative form of the verb in the MT in v. 4b"Command
the deliverances of Jacob"although the LXX and Syriac emend it to a participle, rendering me
phrase as "commanding the deliverances of Jacob."

After v. 8's selah, the Complaint begins with the terse conjunction *]$, trans-
lated by the NRSV as "yet." In w. 9-22, the community and its leader mingle
their voices in a lengthy statement of accusation against God. In v. 23, the leader
offers another brief petition. The psalm moves to its close as the voice of the
community registers yet another Complaint in w. 24-25 and then offers the
final Petition of v. 26. "Arise, be a help for us, and redeem us because of your
Thus, the first observation in the search to understand the rhetoric of Ps 44 is
the movement in the form of the psalm from Expressions of Trust to Complaints
and Petitions. The psalm begins with Expressions of Trust, the fourth element of
the usual lament structure, and ends with a Petition voiced by the community in
v. 26. Thus, the structure of the psalm is: Expression of Trust, Petition (by the
leader), Expression of Trust, Complaint, Petition (by the leader), and Com-
plaintculminating in a Petition by the community.
Next, as stated above, Phyllis Trible suggests that a study of the beginning
and ending of a text is important for understanding rhetoric of a text. Psalm 44
opens in v. 1 with the community remembering the great works that God
accomplished on behalf of the Israelite ancestors as they journeyed into the land
of promise at the end of the wilderness wanderings. The psalm ends in v. 26
with the community petitioning God to help and to redeem them on account of
God's hesedthe covenant commitment between God and the people of Israel.
Psalm 44 is framed at its beginning and end with these two covenant-images
of God. But the middle of Ps 44 is also interesting. For in the midst of the first
Complaint section, in v. 17, the community says: "All of this has come to us,
and we have not forgotten you; we have not acted falsely with your covenant
(rVH?)" and continues in w. 20-21: "If we had forgotten the name of our God
and we had spread the palms of our hands to a foreign god (that is, worshiped
another god), would not God spy this out?" The people say to God, "We know
of your works among our ancestors; we have been faithful to your covenant;
now help and redeem us because of your hesedl"
That leads to the next element that Trible suggests is important in studying
the rhetoric of a textrepetition of words, phrases, and sentences. Psalm 44
evinces a repetition of second person pronouns as we hear the community and
the leader speaking to God:
v. 1 "the works which you accomplished...
v. 2 "Fow (yettah), with your own hand, you have driven out nations."
v. 9 "Yet, you have rejected and you reproach us; you do not go forth with our
v. 19 "But you have crushed us in the place of the sea monster, and you have covered
us over with a shadow of death."

In the twenty-six verses of this psalm, no less than thirty-eight second person
pronouns, pronoun suffixes, and verbal affixes occur. A striking occurrence of
this phenomenon is found in w. 9-14, in the lengthy first Complaint portion of
128 "My Words Are Lovely "

the psalm. Verse 9 begins with *]K ("yet") plus a 2ms perfect verb (you have
rejected). This phrase is followed in the verse by two more 2ms verbs, this time
in the imperfect aspect: "You reproach D^?DR.. .you do not go forth X^n." The
first words of w. 10,11,12,13, and 14 are also 2ms imperfect verbs: Ttfn, ]nn,
"Dan, D^ton, n^n. Thus within these verses we observe not only the repetition
of the pronoun "you," but the repetition of the 2ms imperfect forms, with their
initial Hebrew letter tav, giving the verses what Richard J. Clifford calls "a
staccato effect."13 The terse harshness of the sound of tav acoustically empha-
sizes the harshness of the people's complaint and accusation against God.
Interestingly, the use of "you," especially in the complaint section of the
Psalm (w. 9-22) occurs in sharp contrast with the opening verse of the psalm,
in which the first common plural pronoun and verbal suffix, 'ir 13, dominate: 'We
have heard with our ears, our ancestors have recounted to us."
Trible's sixth element of rhetoric in a text, character portrayals, is also an
interesting study in Ps 44. Three main characters appear in the psalmthe
community, the leader, and God.14 As the community of faith, the people are
well acquainted with the God of their ancestors (v. 1). They know the stories,
and they celebrate and praise the name of God (v. 8). They trust that as God was
with their ancestors, so God will be with them to help beat down, crush, and put
to shame their oppressors (v. 5). But the community cannot understand the
situation in which it finds itself. The people's view is that God has made them
an object of scorn and ridicule, a mockery, a proverb, a shaking of the head
among the peoples (w. 13-14). But they steadfastly affirm their innocence.
They say, "All of this has come to us, and we have not forgotten you" (v. 17).
And they ask, "If we had forgotten the name of our God (*elohiiri)9 and we had
spread the palms of our hands to a foreign god ('el), would not God (>elohim)
spy this out? For God (>eldhini) knows the hidden things of the heart" (vv. 20-
21). And at the Psalm's end, the people cry out to God, "Arise, be a help for us,
and redeem us because of your hesed" The community, therefore, may be
characterized as trusting, faithful, and bewilderedbut not timidin their
current situation.
The reader hears the leader's voice first in v. 4: "You are indeed my king, O
God." The leader intones the first two of the three petitions in Ps 44: "Command
the deliverances of Jacob" (v. 4b), and "Awaken! Why do you sleep, my Lord
(>dddnay)? Rise! Do not reject forever" (v. 23). Hie leader is in charge,
confident, and sympathetic to the fate of the community.
How does Ps 44 characterize God? In the opening words of Trust by the
community and the leader, God is portrayed as powerful and faithful to the
promises to the Israelite ancestors. But with the *]K of v. 9, the image changes. In

13. Richard J. Clifford, Psalms 1-72 (AOTC; Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 220.
14. Other characters do appear: the ancestors in v. 1; the nations and peoples in w. 2-3 and 14;
the oppressors, the ones rising up, and the ones who hate in w. 5,7, and 10; and the one despising
and reviling in v. 16, each of which would make for interesting characterizations in a more lengthy
treatment of the psalm.

the Complaint portion of the psalm, the community and its leader maintain that
God has rejected, cast out, sold out the people of Israel, making them an object
of scorn, of mockery, of shame. And for what reason? None that the people
know of. They say in v. 20, "If we had forgotten the name of our God.. .if we
had spread the palms of our hands to a foreign god..." And in w. 23-26, the
leader and the people implore God to "Awaken, Rise, Arise!" We see in these
verses a reference to the "sleeping deity," a depiction we find in other texts in
the ancient Near East.15 The words of Ps 44 seemingly stand in sharp contrast to
those of Ps 121, which state that God "will never slumber" (121:3).16
Thus Ps 44 depicts a faithful community, a strong leader, and a perhaps
sleeping God who seems to have forgotten the covenant promises. The Deuter-
onomistic History teaches that if the people remain faithful to the covenant and
do not worship other gods, then 'elohim God will bless them and cause them to
prosper. But something has gone terribly wrong.
And so the people cry out. To what end? What do they hope to accomplish
with their words, with their rhetoric? To whom are they speaking? A God who
seems to have forgotten the covenant promises"God where are you? Are you
asleep? Do you not see our troubles?" Or do they speak to themselves as
encouragement to not lose heart"Remember, God was faithful to the ances-
tors; have faith, God will be faithful again; we must just keep lifting our voices."
Are the words of Ps 44 words to God? Or are the words of Ps 44 words to the
people? The answer to both questions is a resounding "yes." The people are
speaking to God and to themselves.
One of the intriguing things about the Hebrew Psalter is that recorded in it are
the words of the ancient Israelites to Godwords of worship, praise, lament,
and supplication. And those words, by being incorporated into the text of the
Hebrew Bible, have become, in some mysterious way, also God's words to a
community of faith. So the words spoken by the community of faith to God
become also the words spoken by God to the community of faith.
In Ps 44, the Expressions of Trust, Petition, Complaint, and further Petition to
God become a source of hope^br a faithful community: hope because the people
can approach God, cry out to God, and expect God to answer and act.
Scholars have speculated much about the origins of Ps 44. When was it
composed? For what purpose was it composed? Rabbinic tradition links the
psalm to the time of the persecutions of the Greek Emperor Antiochus IV
Epiphanes, who ruled Palestine between 163 and 164 BCE. Antiochus banned
circumcision, observance of the sabbath and holy days, and the reading of the
Torah. In addition, he converted the Jerusalem temple into a pagan sanctuary.
The books of 1 and 2 Maccabees relate the story of the Jewish revolt against his
harsh policies. In 1 Mace 2:19-22, the Maccabean leader Mattathias says:

15. See Bernard F. Batto, "The Sleeping God: An Ancient Near Eastern Motif of Divine
Sovereignty," Biblica 68 (1987): 153-76.
16. We also observe "bad shepherd" imagery in vv. 11, 19, and 22.
130 "My Words Are Lovely "

Even if all of the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen
to obey his commandments, every one of them abandoning the religion of their
ancestors, I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our
ancestors. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the
king's words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.

Thus began the Maccabean revolt against the oppressive rule of Antiochus IV.
The Babylonian Talmud tractate b. Sot. 48a states that, at the time of Macca-
bees, v. 23a of Ps 44 was sung daily by the Levites: "Awaken! Why do you
sleep, my Lord?"
In reality, a number of times of oppression in the life of ancient Israel would
fit the message of Ps 44: the Assyrian attack on Jerusalem in 701 BCE, the
destruction of the temple by the Babylonians in 587, the subsequent exile of the
Israelites that lasted until 538 BCE.
The Roman Catholic lectionary calls for the reading of Ps 44 on Thursday,
Week 1, Year 2, in conjunction with the reading of 1 Sam 4:1-11, the story of
the capture of the ark by the Philistines. Abraham Heschel dedicated his seminal
work on the Hebrew Prophets17 to the martyrs of the Holocaust of 1939-1945,
and quoted from Ps 44 in the book's dedication:
All of this has come to us, but we have not forgotten you;
we have not acted falsely with your covenant.
We have not drawn back our heart,
nor did our steps turn away from your way.
But you have crushed us in the place of the sea monster, (w. 17-19)

Indeed, Ps 44 is a psalm for all times of unjust suffering by the people of God.
Its use of words, its rhetoric, is appropriate to countless milieu and situations, a
suggestion confirmed by its superscription, "To the leader; Of the Korahites; a
Maskil." The word Maskil comes from the Hebrew root ^Dto and in the verbal
stem in which we find it in the Psalter, it means "to have insight, to teach."18 So
we might understand Ps 44 as a "teaching" psalm.
Psalm 44 teaches the faithful that God can and should be held to account
"you have rejected us.. .you make us an object of scorn... because of you we are
slain every day." It teaches the faithful that it is okay to cry out to God
"Awaken! Why do you sleep?... Arise, be a help for us!" and that is okay to
protest our innocence"If we had forgotten the name of our God, and we had
spread the palms of our hands to a foreign god..."
Psalm 44 also teaches that we must remember"With our ears we have
heard, our ancestors have recounted to us the works which you accomplished in
their days..." and that we must trust"with you our oppressors we will beat
down.. .for the ones who hate us you have put to shame." And, perhaps most
importantly, Ps 44 teaches that sometimes the faithful are not able to understand
the ways of God. "Yet, you have rejected and you reproach us... You make us a
proverb among the nations.. .all of this has come to us, and we have not forgotten

17. Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets: An Introduction (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962).
18. DeClaisse-Walford, Introduction to the Psalms, 151.

you; we have not acted falsely with your covenant." Therefore, the faithful must
continue to dialogue with God, call God to account, and then remain faithful.
"We have not drawn back our heart... Awaken, arise!"
The rhetoric of Ps 44 echoes the rhetoric of the Psalter as a whole. In its
verses, the reader encounters a people of God struggling to understand their
relationship with God in a new world, in a world in which all hope seems to be
gone. And yet hope remains. As long as there is dialogue, there is hope. What is
the Maskil, the teaching of Ps 44? The voice of the leader in v. 4 sums it up
well, "You are indeed my king, O God." Psalm 44 provides words of confidence
and hope in the future; words to God; words to a community of faith.
Words, a plethora of them, are strung together one after another. The words
constitute a psalm, a cry to God, a cry of words, words we can remember and
recite. Words strung together are called rhetoric.
Psalms, a plethora of them, are strung together one after another. The psalms
constitute a Psalter, a cry to God, a cry of psalmic words, psalms we can
remember and recite. Words of rhetoric grouped togethermight we view it as
canonical shaping?
David M. Howard, Jr.

My intent in this essay is to examine various ways in which the lament in the
Hebrew Bible is "rhetorical." I will do this by first considering the general
structure and function of the lament as identified by form critics, and then by
devoting more concentrated attention to one exemplar, which happens to be the
most desperate of all laments: Ps 88.
By "rhetorical" I mean the ways in which the lament means to persuade. This
understanding of rhetoric harks back to the discipline given its classical expres-
sion by Aristotle, wherein he stated that "Rhetoric then may be defined as the
faculty of discovering the possible means of persuasion in reference to any
subject whatever."1
In the discipline of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament studies, "rhetorical criti-
cism" has more often referred not to such study of persuasion, but to literary and
stylistic concerns.2 This followed James Muilenburg's landmark presidential
address in 1968, "Form Criticism and Beyond," where he laid out a vision for a
"rhetorical" (i.e. "literary") reading of texts. He stated that
What I am interested in, above all, is in understanding the nature of Hebrew literary
composition, in exhibiting the structural patterns that are employed for the fashioning of
a literary unit, whether in poetry or in prose, and in discerning the many and various
devices by which the predications are formulated and ordered into a unified whole. Such
an enterprise I should describe as rhetoric and the methodology as rhetorical criticism.3

Muilenburg's influence was enormous and salutary for the discipline, moving it
toward sensitive literary and holistic readings of texts, a movement that has held
sway in biblical studies for more than a quarter century now. However, in the
hands of many practitioners since, "rhetorical criticism" has been little more
than an exercise in stylistics.

* I thank Daniel Estes and Michael Travers for their helpful responses to an earlier draft of mis
paper at the Literature of the Bible Study Group of the Evangelical Theological Society, 16 Nov-
ember 2005. And, I thank the following colleagues for their careful reading of this version and for
their trenchant queries and comments: Walter Brown, Robert E. Cole, Robert Foster, Abraham
Johnson, and Francis Kimmitt.
1. Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.2.1 (LCL).
2. I have demonstrated this and argued for a more truly "rhetoricar criticism in David M.
Howard, Jr., "Rhetorical Criticism in Old Testament Studies," BBR 4 (1994): 87-104.
3. James Muilenburg, "Form Criticism and Beyond," JBL 88 (1969): 1-18 (8).
HOWARD Psalm 88 and the Rhetoric of Lament 133

In this essay, I will focus on the rhetoric of the laments, attempting to observe
the means of persuasion used. But my interest is especially focused on one
lament: Ps 88. It is the lament par excellence, not because it most typifies the
genreit does notbut because it expresses the depths of despair more than
any other psalm. The psalmist finds himself in extremis desperatis. Put simply,
Ps 88 is "the mother of all laments."
In addition, Ps 88 is also unique in that it does not appear, at first glance, to
include some of the most key elements of laments, including any direct appeal
to God to act. So, then, we must also consider in what sense such a psalm can be
judged to be "rhetorical." If there is no petition, in what sense does it attempt to

I. The Rhetoric of Lament

At the outset, we may ask the following of any and all laments: In what sense
are they rhetorical? That is, how do they attempt to persuade? This question can
be answered on two levels, what I shall call the "external rhetorical function"
and the "internal rhetorical function."

a. The External Rhetorical Function

First, at the level of canonical scripture, the laments function rhetorically in
ways that all sacred texts do: they are written to persuade people of certain
perceived or revealed truths, to challenge them to act on these truths, that is, to
transform lives.41 shall call this the "external rhetorical function" of a lament.
The primary audience is outside the text: it is the (implied) reader or hearer or
In the New Testament, the clearest statement of purpose for scripture is the
statement in 2 Timothy to the effect that it is not only "inspired by God" (0eo-
TTVEUOTOS) [theopneustos], but also useful(co4>eAi|jos) [ophelimos] "for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone
who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim
3:16-17).5 The point here is that scripture has an extra-textual rhetorical
functionthat is, one oriented externallyof persuading its readers and hearers
of the euangelion contained therein.
Elsewhere hi the New Testament, the authors of Luke and John very self-con-
sciously state their rhetorical purposes. In Luke, the purpose was to persuade
any God-fearer like Theophilus of the truth of what he had heard about Jesus:
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have
been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from
the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after

4. See also G. A. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 6-7, on the rhetorical function of sacred texts.
5. All biblical citations are from the NRSV, except those from Ps 88, which are my own trans-
134 "My Words Are Lovely "

investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for
you, most excellent Theophilus,4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things
about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4)

John's purpose was likewise written to persuade people of the necessity of belief
in Jesus, the Christ:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not
written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the
Christ, the Son of God, and mat by believing you may have life in his name. (John

In the Old Testament, two of the clearest statements of purpose have to do with
wisdom, which is noteworthy, in light of the role of wisdom (/dm/instruction) in
the final form of the Psalter (Ps 1). First, the introductory section of Proverbs
shows that it was written (or compiled) to persuade people to pursue wisdom
and the fear of YHWH:
For learning about wisdom and instruction,
for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
knowledge and prudence to the young
Let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
and the discerning acquire skill,
to understand a proverb and a figure,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Prov 1:2-7)

Second, the book of Hosea ends with an exhortation in the wisdom tradition:
Those who are wise understand these things;
those who are discerning know them.
For the ways of the LORD are right,
and the upright walk in them,
but transgressors stumble in them. (Hos 14:9)

The book of Psalms does not have as explicit a statement of purpose as these
books. However, recent studies on the purpose of the Psalter have shown that,
beyond being sung and performed in worship, the psalms are meant to be
meditated on (in the words of Ps 1) every bit as much as Torah is.6 They are
instruction for life, not just songs for worship.7 As part of the "word" of God
that was passed down in Israel, they are equally valuable for instructionfor

6. For entre'e into this large discussion, see David M. Howard, Jr., "The Psalms and Current
Study," in Studying the Psalms: Issues and approaches (ed. P. S. Johnston and D. Firth; Leicester:
Apollos, 2005), 23-40, esp. 24-27 and n. 11. See now also David C. Mitchell, "Lord, remember
David: G. H. Wilson and the Message of the Psalter," VT56 (2006): 526-48.
7. On this point, see especially J. Clinton McCann, Jr., "The Psalms as Instruction," Int 46
(1992): 117-28; idem, A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms: The Psalms as Torah
(Nashville: Abingdon, 1993); David G. Firth, "The Teaching of the Psalms," in Johnston and Firth,
eds., Interpreting the Psalms, 15974.
HOWARD Psalm 88 and the Rhetoric of Lament 135

guidance, for transformationas the Torah is. This is of a piece with the more
explicit statement of purpose in 2 Tim 3:16-17: the Psalms too have a role in
teaching followers of YHWH how to live and in transforming their lives.
The external rhetorical function of the laments, then, fits with this: they were
preserved to serve as guides for worship, for relating to God, indeed, as guides
for all of life. The fact that the laments comprise the largest category of psalms
in the Psalterto say nothing of the great laments found elsewhere, such as in
Jeremiah (laments proper) and Lamentations (dirges)is itself instructive: they
can serve as models for relating to God in extreme circumstances. I shall return
to this below, in Section HI.

b. The Internal Rhetorical Function

Second, at the level of individual texts, the laments also function rhetorically, in
attempting to "persuade" God to act on the psalmists' behalf. I shall call this the
"internal rhetorical function." The primary audience at this level is the deity.
That is, within the inner "world" of any given lament psalm, YHWH is the one to
be persuaded. He is appealed to as the source of help; he is the addressee8 who is
expected to respond.
The standard statement of what comprises the lament belongs to Hermann
Gunkel, first put forth in his commentary and then his introduction to the
Psalms.9 Gunkel identified six major elements (and many sub-elements) of the
individual lament, which is the single largest category of psalms:10
1. Introductory cry for help
2. Complaint
3. Expression of confidence or reason for trust
4. Petition
5. Certainty of being heard
6. Vow to praise
For Gunkel, the most important part of the lament is the fourth element, the
petition. He states, "It is the heart of the genre, which is understandable since the

8. Literary studies of narrative refer to the narratee occupying an analogous plot in the text
9. Hermann Gunkel, Die Psalmen (4th ed.; Gdttinger Handkommentar zum Alten Testament;
GSttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1926); Hermann Gunkel and J. Begrich, Introduction to the
Psalms: The Genres of the Religious Lyric of Israel (trans. J. D. Nogalski; Macon, Ga.: Mercer
University Press, 1998 [German original 1933]).
10. Gunkel, Introduction to the Psalms, 120-98, esp. 177-86. This is the largest single category
of psalm types. The community laments are much less numerous, and their structure does not differ
significantly from that of the individual lament. See ibid., 82-98. Gunkel's discussion of the laments,
while thorough, is not organized in such a way that the structure of the psalm types is immediately
visible. More accessible presentations of the typical structure of the lamentswith many minor
variationsmay be found in innumerable works, including Glaus Westermann's influential body of
work (Claus Westermann, "The Praise of God in the Psalms," in Praise and Lament in the Psalms
[trans. K. R. Crim and R. N. Soulen; Atlanta: John Knox, 1981 ], 52-81, esp. 52,64, and in the same
volume 'The Structure and History of the Lament in the Old Testament," 163-213, esp. 170). See
also the following recent popular-level works: C. Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 136-37; Daniel J. Estes, Handbookon the Wisdom Books and Psalms
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 165-72.
136 "My Words Are Lovely "

efforts of the praying are designed to obtain something from God."11 To use our
terminology, the petition is rhetorical', it intends to persuade God to act.
The psalms are full of the vocabulary of petition, usually communicated by
means of the imperatival verb form: "Listen!" (Ps 30:11); "Hear my voice!" (Pss
27:7; 64:2; 119:149; 130:2); "Hear my prayer!" (Pss 4:1 [2]; 39:12 [13]; 54:2
[4]; 84:8 [9]; 102:1 [2]; 143:1); "Hear the sound of my pleas!" (Ps 28:2);
"Incline your ear!" (Pss 17:6; 31:3; 86:1; 88:2 [3]; 102:2); and more.
By means of such richly varied vocabulary, petitioners hoped to move God to
act on their behalf. As Patrick Miller observes, the laments "have as a primary
function the effort to persuade and motivate God to act in behalf of the peti-
tioner "who is in trouble and needs God's help."12 Miller shows that a fundamen-
tal component of this attempt to persuade is the so-called motive clause, that is,
the reasons set forth as the grounds for help. These reasons are rooted in three
fundamental realities, even though, in the end, the three are all "different aspects
of a single reality" and they often overlap with each other:13
1. God's nature and character
2. The petitioners' situation
3. The relationship between God and the petitioners)
Under God's nature and character, factors such as God's justice, his faithful-
ness, his mercy or steadfast love, or even God's reputation itself are given as
grounds for the petition being offered, and the basis of hope that God will
indeed answer.14 That is, it is precisely because God is just, faithful, merciful, or
jealous of his own name (reputation) that he will respond to the travails in which
his people might find themselves.
Under the petitionersf situation, the grounds for petition are rooted in the
petitioners' great distress. This is sometimes simply stated in general terms, with
no underlying causes specified. Often, the threatening presence of enemies is the
cause of distress and, sometimes, even God's actions (or neglect) themselves are
the cause.15 Sometimes, it is the weak and lowly situation of the petitioners. The
grounds for petition here overlap somewhat with God's nature, since God can be
expected to respond to the petitioners' plight because o/his justice, faithfulness,
mercy, his disposition toward the weak and lowly, and so on.

11. Gunkel, Introduction to the Psalms, 157-58. So also Westermann, Praise and Lament in the
Psalms, 55: "The most constant of all parts is the petition. It is never missing." The great exception
to Westermann's categorical statement is Ps 88.
12. Patrick D. Miller, Jr., "Prayer as Persuasion: The Rhetoric and Intention of Prayer," in his
Israelite Religion and Biblical Theology: Collected Essays (JSOTSup 267; Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press, 2000), 337-44 (337, italics Miller's). (This article is reprinted from Word and
World 13 [1993]: 356-62.)
13. Ibid., 338.
14. Ibid., 338-^0.
15. Here, the three-fold focus on God, the enemies, and the "I" in the laments, first pointed out
by Claus Westennann, can be seen (see Westennann, "The Structure and History of the Lament in
the Old Testament," in Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 169-70 and passim).
HOWARD Psalm 88 and the Rhetoric of Lament 137

Under the relationship between God and the petitioner(s), it is clear that this
forms the basis for all petition. The petitioners are not strangers to the God
whom they importune. They cry out with great passion, not simply about their
troubles, but confidently ask for deliverance and trust that such deliverance will
be forthcoming, precisely because they have a faith grounded in their relation-
ship with their God.
The contrast here between the biblical and the Babylonian laments is instruc-
tive: whereas the address to the gods in the Babylonian laments tends to be long,
elaborate, and sycophanticindicating the desperation of the lamenters in even
wondering whether they would be granted a hearingthe address to God in the
biblical laments is much shorter and more direct.16 The closeness of the relation-
ship between lamenters and their God obviates the need for much preliminary
flattery; the biblical lamenters usually get right to the point and cry out with
their need. And, the biblical laments are astonishingly upbeat, compared to the
Babylonian laments: they characteristically express confidence in YHWH, often
with detailed reasons for this trust; they typically express the certainty of being
heard (i.e. they have confidence that YHWH will indeed hear and respond), and
they almost always conclude with some expression of praise, whether a vow to
praise when the deliverance comes or an expression of praise itself.

II. The Character of Psalm 88

In contrast to the typical lament, Ps 88 stands out as an anomaly. It is the
bleakest, darkest, and most desolate of all the psalms. It has been called many
things, including the "darkest corner of the Psalter."17 Below I present a

16. This point was made in a work that I read long ago, which I thought was by Gunkel or
Westermann, but which I cannot now retrieve. However, one needs only to compare almost any
biblical lament with such examples of Babylonian (and Sumerian and Assyrian) laments as are
found in ANET. See, e.g., the "Prayer of Lamentation to Ishtar" (pp. 383-85), where the address to
the goddess comprises the first 41 lines, mostly consisting of flattering epithets.
17. R. E. O. White, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (ed. W. A. Elwell; Grand Rapids:
Baker, 1989), 388. Recent literature on the psalm includes the following: Robert C. Culley, "Psalm
88 Among the Complaints," in Ascribe to the Lord: Biblical & Other Studies in Memory of Peter C.
Craigie (ed. L. M. Eslinger, P. C. Craigie, and G. Taylor; JSOTSup 67; Sheffield: Sheffield Aca-
demic Press, 1988), 289-302; Marvin Tate, "Psalm 88," Review and Expositor 87 (1990): 91-95;
Karl-Johan Illman, "Psalm 88: A Lamentation Without Answer," SJOT1 (1991): 112-20; W. S.
Prinsloo, "Psalm 88: The Gloomiest Psalm?," OTE 5 (1992): 332-45; Philippe Hugo," 'Mes intimes
(c'est) la tnebre': L'homme aux prises avec la soufrrance a Fexemple du Ps 88," in Le mystere du
mal: Peche, souffiance et redemption (ed. M.-B. Borde; Toulouse: Carmel, 2001), 49-78; Bernd
Janowski, "Die Toten loben JHWH nicht: Psalm 88 und das alttestamentliche Todesverstandnis," in
AuferstehungResurrection (ed. F. Avemarie andH. Lichtenberger; WUNT 135; Tubingen: Mohr
Siebeck, 2001), 345; Irene Nowell, "Psalm 88: A Lesson in Lament," in Imagery and Imagination
in Biblical Literature: Essays in Honor ofAloysius Fitzgerald, F.S.C. (ed. L. Boadt, M. S. Smith,
and A. Fitzgerald; Washington: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 2001), 105-18; Frank
Crusemann, "Rhetorische Fragen!? Eine Aufkundige des Konsenses uber Psalm 88:11-13 und seine
Bedeutung fur das alttestamentliche Reden von Gott und Tod," Biblical Interpretation 11 no. 3/4
(2003): 345-60; Erich Zenger, "Mit Gott urns Leben kampfen: Zur Funktion der Todesbilder in den
Psalmen"JahrbuchfiirBiblische Theologie 19 (2004): 63-78.
138 "My Words Are Lovely "

translation of the psalm, followed by an analysis of its dark and desolate char-
acter from two different perspectives: vocabulary and mood and form-critical

a. Psalm 88: Translation and Commentary

(1) A song. A psalm of the sons of Korah. For the choirmaster. According to
Mahalath-letannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.
(2) O LORD, the God of my salvation, / by day I have cried outby night toobefore you!
2 (3) My prayer comes before you, / incline your ear to my ringing cry!
3 4
( > For my soul is more than full of troubles, / and my life has drawn near to Sheol!
4 (5) inave been reckoned with those who go down to the Pit, /1 have been like a strong
man without any strength:
5 6
( ) One released among the dead, like defiled bodies lying in the grave, / whom you
remembered no more, indeed, they are cut off from your care!
6 7
C ) You have placed me into the lowest parts of the Pit, / into the darkest places, into the
7 8
( ) Your wrath has rested heavily upon me, / and you have afflicted me with all your
breakers. [SELAH]
8 9
( ) You have removed those who know me far from me, / You have made me
abominations to them. /1 am shut in and I cannot get out.
0) My eye has grown dim because of my trouble, /1 have called unto you, O LORD, all
the day, /1 have spread out my palms unto you.
10 (ii) Do you work wonders for the dead? / Or do the shades rise up and praise you?
11 (12) Is your steadfast love recounted in the grave? / Your faithfulness in the place of
12 (13) Are your wonders known in the darkness? / And your righteousness in the land of
13 (H) But as for me, unto you, O LORD, I have cried out! / And in the morning my prayer
approaches you!
14 5
(i ) Why, O LORD, do you reject me?! / Why do you hide your face from me?!
15 06) Afflicted have I beenand dying!since my youth! /1 have borne your terrors;
I am overcome!
16 (17) Over me have passed your burning angers! / Your dread assaults have destroyed me!
I? (18) They have swirled around like waters over me all the day, / they have encircled me
is (19) YOU have removed far from me my loved one and my friend, / (namely,) those who
know me. O, Darkness!

Cry of Distress (w. 1-2).18 The psalm begins with an anguished cry of distress.
We find hints of the psalmist's relationship with YHWHhe speaks of him as

18. For convenience, verse references here are to the English numeration. Also, references
below to the psalmist will use masculine pronouns, partly for convenience and partly because of the
overwhelming likelihood, given the social-cultural milieu of the ancient Near East, mat such an
author was male. (The Song of Deborah or Mary's Magnificat are signal counter-examples, of
HOWARD Psalm 88 and the Rhetoric of Lament 139

"the God of my salvation" (v. 1) and he is praying (v. 2; cf. also v. 13). But
distress is the keynote here, and it yields quickly to an in-depth recital of the
psalmist's troubles.

The Psalmist's Troubles (w. 3-5). This section is permeated with vivid images
of deathSheol, the Pit, the grave, the dead, the slain, defiled bodiesthat paint
an overwhelming picture of darkness and despair.

YHWH'S Afflictions (w. 6-9). The psalmist now points to YHWH as the source of
his problems. It is YHWH who has brought him down to the lowest pit, the dark
places, the depths (v. 6). The psalmist feels the weight of YHWH'S wrath crash-
ing over him (v. 7). And, worst of all, YHWH has removed even his friends from
him (v. 8; cf. v. 18). He feels trapped (v. 8). He cannot see, because his eye is
dimmed with grief. He repeatedly calls out to YHWH, in a seemingly futile
attempt to get him to listen (v. 9).

Questions for YHWH (w. 10-12). In his desperation, and despite the fact that he
has accused YHWH of being the source of his troubles, the psalmist now turns to
the only one he can: YHWH himself. He poses a series of six questions that are
all are variations on one theme: the dead do not praise YHWH.19 There are two
assumptions in these questions. First, the psalmist feels under the threat of death,
whether literally or metaphorically. Second, and more importantly, the psalmist
equates praising YHWH, testifying to his goodnesshis steadfast love, his faith-
fulness, his righteousness, his wonderful workswith life. Thus, the psalmist's
request for deliverance is not simply self-serving, some sort of primal scream
that displays the survival instinct of the species. Rather, it is an anguished and
tormented requestyet a reasoned onethat he be spared, so that he can praise
and glorify his God. It comes out of an experience in the past where there was a
better relationship with his God. It is a request born out of faith in YHWH as one
who could deliver him, and as one whom the psalmist wants to praise, even if he
cannot bring himself to do so right now.20

Final Cries of Distress and Affliction (w. 13-18). The psalmist concludes with
another desperate litany of his troubles, using almost every image imaginable to
get his point across. He speaks of his own ceaseless prayer (v. 13), and of
YHWH'S rejecting him, of his being afflictedeven close to deathfrom the
days of his youth (w. 1415), of YHWH'S terrors, his burning anger, and his
dreaded assaults (w. 15-16) passing and swirling over him (w. 16-17).

19. My purpose here is not to explore Israelite conceptions of death or the afterlife, per se. See
the works in n. 17 by Hugo, Janowski, CrQsemann, and Zenger for more on these.
20. We see similar expressions elsewhere, e.g., in Ps 6:5: "For in death there is no remembrance
of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?" or in Ps 30:9: "What profit is there in my death, if I go
down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?" Westermann (Praise and
Lament, 15 5-61) has noted that, in all the psalms, the relationship between praising and not praising
was the same as that between living and not living. If one was alive, one was praising God.
140 "My Words Are Lovely "

The final note is one of complete desolation (v. 18): YHWH has taken away the
psalmist's closest supports, and all he has left is darkness. The poetry becomes
fractured here, slowly spiraling to a dramatic but despairing stop, in a manner
similar to that in the Song of Deborah at the telling of Sisera's death (Judg
5:27). In Judg 5, we can render v. 27 graphically as follows, with intf standing
alone poetically in the same way that ^tfna in Ps 88 does:
He sank, he fell, he lay still at her feet;
at her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell

Thus, in Ps 88:18, "tfTQ, "those who know me," is appositional to inn nnfc, "my
loved one and my friend" (rather than forming the head element of a verbless
clause with ^Stfng, as in most renditions). I render the verse as follows:
You have removed far from me
my loved one and my friend,
those who know me.
O, Darkness!

The final utterance C^'n?) is thus a final despairing gasp or moan: "O, Dark-
ness!"21 Darkness is all that the psalmist can see as he looks out around him.
There is nothing left for him, it seems.22

b. Vocabulary and Mood

The psalm is dark and desolate on at least two levels. First, the vocabulary and
mood of the psalm are unrelentingly negative, focused primarily on three things:
(1) the psalmist's desperate condition, (2) death and the realm of the dead, and
(3) YHWH as the cause of the psalmist's condition. Consider the data in Table 1:
Table 1. Images of Desperation in Psalm 88
(1) The Psalmist's Condition
v. 3 (4): my soul is more than full of troubles
v. 3 (4): my life has drawn near to Sheol
v. 4 (5): I have been reckoned with those who go down to the Pit
v. 4 (5): I have been like a strong man without any strength
v. 5 (6): [I have been like] one released among the dead...
v. 5 (6): [I have been like those] cut off from your care
v. 8 (9): I am shut in
v. 8 (9): I cannot get out
v. 15 (16): afflicted have I been
v. 15 (16): dying
v.!5(16): lam overcome

21. There are some textual variants here, but see the discussions in H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 60-150
(Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989), 192, and F.-L. Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2 (Hermeneia;
Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 391, both of which reflect the understanding here.
22. There is some similarity between this utterance and that of Kurtz, the evil genius in Joseph
Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, who, as he faced death and looked back over a totally corrupt
life, uttered his dying, despairing words: "The horror! The horror!"
HOWARD Psalm 88 and the Rhetoric of Lament 141

v. 16(17): over me have passed your burning angers

v. 16 (17): your dread assaults have destroyed me
v. 17(18): they have swirled around me
v. 17 (18): they have encircled me
v. 18(19): you have removed far from me my loved one and my friend
(2) Images of Death
v. 3 (4): Sheol
v. 4 (5): the Pit
v. 5 (6): the dead
v.5(6): defiled bodies
v. 5 (6): the grave
v. 6 (7): the lowest parts of the Pit
v. 6 (7): the darkest places
v. 5 (6): the depths
v. 10(11): the dead
v. 10(11): the shades
v. 11(12): the grave
v. 11 (12): the place of destruction
v. 12(13): the darkness
v. 12 (13): the land of oblivion

(3) YHWH's Actions Against the Psalmist

v. 5 (6): you remembered no more
v. 6 (7): you have placed me [into the lowest parts of the Pit, etc.]
v. 7 (8): your wrath has rested heavily upon me
v. 7 (8): you have afflicted me with all your breakers
v. 8 (9): you have removed those who know me far from me
v. 8 (9): you have made me abominations to them
v. 14(15): you reject me
v. 14 (15): you hide your face from me
v. 15 (16): your terrors [I have borne]
v. 16 (17): your burning angers [over me have passed]
v. 16(17): your dread assaults [have destroyed me]
v. 17 (18): they [your burning angers and dread assaults] have swirled
around [... over me]
v. 17(18): they [your burning angers and dread assaults] have encircled me
v. 18(19): you have removed far from me my loved one and my friend

One can scarcely read this psalm without feeling overwhelmed, simply by virtue
of the dark intensity of the psalmist's words, and by the dark imagery evoked.

c. Form-Critical Structure
Psalm 88 is dark and desolate on a second level, as well: that of its form-critical
structure. This is because, when the standard form-critical structure is con-
sidered, it becomes clear that Ps 88 lacks several critical components of the
typical lament. Many scholars have noted that there is no direct petition, no
expression of trust or certainty of being heard, and certainly no vow to praise.23

23. E.g. Gunkel, Die Psalmen, in loc.; Culley, "Psalm 88," 293; Prinsloo, "Psalm 88," 334-35.
142 "My Words Are Lovely "

This leaves us with a rather truncated "lament," so truncated that some scholars
question whether it is, in fact, a classic lament at all; some create a new category
just for Ps 88.24 It is not my purpose here to settle the question of what nomen-
clature to assign to Ps 88. What is instructive for our purposes are the glaring
differences between this psalm and the typical pattern of the vast majority of the
other lament psalms.25
However, in noting this, we encounter some of the limitations of form
criticism that Muilenburg pointed out. Form criticism has tended to emphasize
the typical at the expense of the unique. It also has tended to emphasize formu-
laic language and to downplay language that does not fit the formulas.
Thus, to take what Gunkel considered to be the most important part of the
lamentthe petitionmost scholars conclude that the psalm makes no attempt
at all to move YHWH to act.26 For example, Philip Johnston comments in a
recent essay that "there is no hint of response or hope of improvement"27
This would be an overly restricted view of the psalm, however. When we
consider the data in Table 2, we see that the psalmist has indeed attempted to
move YHWH to act.

Table 2. The Psalmist's Actions in Persuasion

v. 1 (2): I have cried out
v. 2 (3): my prayer comes before you
v. 2 (3): "incline [your ear]"28
v. 2 (3): my ringing cry
v. 9 (10): I have called unto you
v. 9 (10): I have spread out my palms
v. 13 (14): I have cried out
v. 13 (14): my prayer approaches you

Furthermore, concerning the lack of any specific petition or motive clause in the
psalm, when we consider Patrick Miller's tripartite realities underlying the
motive clause, we see that these elements do appear in the psalm, even if they
are not formulated exactly as the standard lament formulas would require. See
the data in Table 3:

24. For a review of this discussion, see Prinsloo, "Psalm 88," 33435.
25. It should be stressed that many psalms do not fit the pattern in one particular or another, and
all form critics acknowledge that the pattern identified by Gunkel (and refined by many others) is not
a "one-size-fits-air pattern. But, no other psalm of lament so dramatically breaks with the pattern,
thus highlighting again its unique place in the Psalter. In connection with this, we should note Walter
Brueggemann's landmark essay, "Psalms and the Life of Faith: A Suggested Typology of Function,"
JSOT17 (1980): 3-32. In formulating his psalm categories around three orientationspsalms of
"orientation," "disorientation," and "re-orientation"he paid especially close attention to Ps 88, as
the most extreme example of a psalm of disorientation.
26. Note that there is only one imperative verb form in the entire psalm, at v. 2 (3): nan
("incline [your ear]").
27. Philip Johnston, "The Psalms and Distress," in Johnston and Firth, eds., Studying the
Psalms, 63-84 (79). See also the references in n. 23.
28. Here is the psalmist's request, expressed by means of the psalm's only imperative verb
form: nan.
HOWARD Psalm 88 and the Rhetoric of Lament 143

Table 3. Foundations of Motive Clauses

(1) YHWH's nature and character

v. 1 (2): the God of my salvation

v. 11 (12): your steadfast love
v. 11 (12): Your faithfulness
v. 12(13): your wonders
v. 12(13): your righteousness
(2) The petitioner's situation
v. 3 (4): my soul is more than full of troubles
v. 3 (4): my life has drawn near to Sheol
v. 4 (5): I have been reckoned with those who go down to the Pit
v. 4 (5): I have been like a strong man without any strength
v. 5 (6): [I have been like] one released among the dead...
v. 5 (6): [I have been like those] cut off from your care
v. 8 (9): I am shut in
v. 8 (9): I cannot get out
v. 15 (16): afflicted have I been
v. 15 (16): dying
v. 15 (16): I am overcome
v. 16 (17): over me have passed your burning angers
v. 16 (17): your dread assaults have destroyed me
v. 17(18): they have swirled around me
v. 17 (18): they have encircled me
v. 18 (19): you have removed far from me my loved one and my friend
(3) The relationship between YHWH and the petitioner
v. 1 (2): the God of my salvation
v. 9 (10): I have called unto you, O LORD, all the day
v. 9 (10): I have spread out my palms unto you
v. 13 (14): But as for me, unto you, O LORD, I have cried out!
v. 13 (14): And in the morning my prayer approaches you!

IE. The Rhetorical Purposes of Psalm 88

In light of the above, what can we say about the rhetorical purposes of Ps 88? Is
it a psalm utterly unto itself, with no elements of hope? Is it the defiant cry of
one who has abandoned belief? Does it retain any positive elements, despite the
absence of the standard vocabulary of belief and hope? How, in the end, should
it be read?
In answering these questions, I shall return to the categories outlined above
of the external and internal rhetorical functionsbut in reverse order.

a. The Internal Rhetorical Function of Psalm 88

Within the internal "world" of the psalm, YHWH is the addressee and primary
audience, and the psalmist is crying out desperately to him. From the data just
considered, it is clear that he has not abandoned his faith, and it is clear that he
still recognizes many of YHWH'S attributes. It is also clear that he has attempted
in manifold ways to move YHWH to act.
144 "My Words Are Lovely"

What is equally clear, however, is that YHWH has not responded (at least not
yet). So, the psalmist's rhetorical situation is that he is exhausted and over-
whelmed, and he cannot move himself any longer to importune his God. His
only recourse is feebly to remind YHWH that he has cried out in the past, and
then simply to be silent and wait. The psalm does not end with any note of hope.
One is reminded of Habakkuk's challenge (Hab 2:1): "I will stand at my
watchpost, / and station myself on the rampart; //1 will keep watch to see what
he will say to me, / and what he will answer concerning my complaint." In con-
trast to Habakkuk, however, who received his answer in the theophany of Hab 3,
this psalmist has been standing and waiting, and still has not seen any answer.
So, the psalmist has exhausted his petitions. His only hope is that YHWH
would rescue him so that he might yet again praise his God (w. 10-12), and that
YHWH'S attributes mentioned in w. 11-12 would somehow be his salvation. He
abandons himself to YHWH'S "tender mercies," which in this case seem neither
tender nor merciful. He has nothing more to say.

b. The External Rhetorical Function of Psalm 88

The external audience for the psalm is the (implied) reader or hearer or wor-
shiper. For this audience, the psalm is very instructive. By what he does and
does not affirm, the psalmist provides a trenchant example for those who cling
to belief, even in the most desperate of circumstances. On the one hand, there is
some sparse evidence of the psalmist's faith. But, on the other hand, there is the
overwhelming evidence of the darkness in which he finds himself. Both need to
be taken into account in understanding the psalm.

(1) The Faith of the Psalmist. First, we must emphasize that this psalmist has not
abandoned belief. In an article with a rather provocative title,29 Sheila Carney
quotes a character from an Elie Wiesel novel, The Town Beyond the Walls who
has abandoned beliefor who never had any belief to begin with:
Michael, the main character, has just shared with his friend Pedro his favorite prayer:
"O God, be with me when I have need of you, but above all don't leave me when I
deny you" (Wiesel: 44). Pedro responds:

I don't like your prayer! It's humiliating! It gives God what he doesn't deserve:
unconditional allegiance. I have a personal prayer, too, made just for me. This
one: O God, give me the strength to sin against you, to oppose your will! Give
me the strength to deny you, reject you, imprison you, ridicule you! That's my
prayer (Wiesel: 48).

...The passage from Wiesel, I believe, points to the existence of persons with what
might be called a pre-lament mentality. For such persons, the community provides no
stability, God is no anchor, the covenant has no meaning.

The psalmist in Ps 88 is not in Carney's "pre-lament" mode. Several indications

show this. First, he is still talking to his God: w. 2,13 mention his prayers, and

29. Sheila Carney, "God Damn God: A Reflection on Expressing Anger in Prayer," BTB 13,
no. 4 (1983): 116-20. The citation is from p. 120.
HOWARD Psalm 88 and the Rhetoric of Lament 145

elsewhere, his cries indicate the same thing (see Table 2). Second, he still
affirms his relationship with this God, "the God of my salvation" (v. 1). In spite
of his perception that YHWH has caused his troubles, he still believes that his
God is close enough to hear him. Third, he assumes that praise is the normal
mode of life, and he wants to return to that mode (w. 10-12). Fourth, he
acknowledges YHWH'S attributes, such as his steadfast love, his faithfulness, his
righteousness, his wonderful works (w. 11-12).
So, even this most desolate of psalms affirms to its readers/hearers that they
should continue to press their pleas, even (or especially?) when all still seems to
be darkness. This is of a piece with Jesus' parable about the persistent widow,
where he taught his disciples that they should always continue praying and
never give up (Luke 18:l-8).30

(2) The Silence of the Psalmist. But, we would be dishonest to the plain sense of
Ps 88 if we were simply to stretch it to fit the Procrustean bed of the standard
lament form, to claim that, because of these hints of the psalmist's faith, it is
essentially the same as other laments, even if a bit more severe in its overall
tone. Rather, we must acknowledge forthrightly that the glimpses into that faith
are only that: fleeting glimpses. What this psalm gives us a much clearer picture
of is lament, distress, desolation, darkness, despair. These images are clear,
powerful, and unrelenting. The psalm paints a dark picture over and over again,
and it ends on a very dark note.
So, a second external rhetorical function that the psalm performs is to show
that it is part of a believer's experience in life to feel severely distressed, even to
the point of having nothing good to say to one's God. The psalmist can barely
gasp a few hints about his positive feelings toward YHWH; his true feelings in
the moment are overwhelmingly negative.
In this sense, then, the psalm is enormously instructive, because it moves
beyond the "safe" pattern of the typical lament, where there is always, some-
where to be found, an affirmation of YHWH, an expression of trust, a vow to
praise, or some form of praise itself. This psalm, in not including such things,
shows that silence is an appropriate response to severe distress. It is a silence
coming out of a context of previous belief in and experience of YHWH. But, this
silence speaks loudly that sometimes, words are not adequate. We are to present
our complaint, and wait. The bitter experiences of life are vivid reminders that
sometimes this wait is excruciating and sometimes it seems never-ending. Other
psalms show that the wait does end. This psalm, however, shows the legitimacy
of "embracing"if that's the right wordthe wait.31

30. I thank Robert Foster for pointing out this parallel, which is a good one.
31. We might add a third category to this section entitled "The Canonical Situation of Psalm
88." If we were to read Ps 88 in its literary context at the end of Book III of the Psalter, we would
notice another fairly downbeat psalm immediately following: Ps 89. But, then we would experience
a mood change as we passed into Book IV, with the great praises of YHWH as King soon erupting
(Pss 9399). So, in a canonical sense, Book IV can be seen as the "answer" to questions raised in
Book III, including the severe questions raised in Ps 88. But, that is beyond the scope of the present
146 "My Words A re Lovely "

TV. Conclusion
In conclusion, we can reiterate what we have discovered. Concerning the lament
in general, it is useful to consider both its external and internal rhetorical func-
tions. The external function deals with the (implied) reader or hearer or wor-
shiper as the primary audience, and the many laments in the Psalter provide
manifold examples of how worshipers could relate to YHWH. The internal
rhetorical function deals with YHWH as addressee, where he is petitioned. The
rhetoric, particularly of the motive clauses, intends to persuade YHWH to act on
the petitioner's behalf.
Concerning Ps 88, we can see both of these rhetorical functions at work,
albeit in ways different from most laments, due to the unique nature of this
psalm. The internal rhetorical function shows the psalmist crying out to YHWH,
even if there is no clear petition or motive clause as in other laments. It also
shows, significantly, the psalmist dealing with feelings of desolation and aban-
donment. The external rhetorical function shows (implied) readers and hearers
and worshipers how to cope with extraordinary circumstances, where God seems
nowhere to be found. It affirms both a clinging to faith as well as the appro-
priateness of questioning God severely, and, finally, of silence.

discussion. See Robert L. Cole, The Shape and Message of Book III (Psalms 73-89) (JSOTSup 307;
Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), as well as some of the works referred to in n. 6, for more
on this.
W. H. Bellinger, Jr.

When I began to work on Ps 102, what I knew about the psalm was its super-
scription ("A prayer of an afflicted one when fainting and pouring out a com-
plaint before Yahweh"), and so I assumed it was a typical individual lament.
Little did I realize how complicated and interesting Ps 102 would prove to be.
This essay is an entry into exploring various readings of the text. It will begin by
examining the structure of the psalm and its traditional interpretation before
proposing an alternative reading that stresses poetic ambiguity. My study will
conclude by attending to canonical and theological issues.1
The approach adopted in the present study is consonant with rhetorical
criticism as it has been used in Old Testament studies.2 That use has roots all the
way back to Aristotle in the classical tradition of rhetoric as the art of persua-
sion. The various dimensions of Ps 102 seek to persuade readers/hearers, but
that persuasion can move in more than one direction.

Translation of Psalm 102

1. A prayer of an afflicted one when fainting and pouring out a complaint before Yahweh.
2. Yahweh, hear my prayer
and let my cry come before you.
3. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear unto me; answer me quickly on the day I call.
4. For my days vanish like smoke,3
and my bones burn like fire.4

* This paper was originally prepared for oral presentation at the annual convention of the
Catholic Biblical Association in Halifax in 2004.
1. See Franz Sedlmeier, "Zusammengesetzte Nominalsatze und ihre leistung fur Psalm cii," VT
45 (1995): 239-50, for suggestions of secondary literature on Ps 102.
2. See W. H. Bellinger, Jr., A Hermeneutic of Curiosity and Readings of Psalm 61 (Studies in
Old Testament Interpretation 1; Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1995), 71-88; David M.
Howard, Jr., "Rhetorical Criticism in Old Testament Studies," BBR 4 (1994): 87-104. In various
ways, this study will seek to articulate the "argument" of the text.
3. Reading pto. MT has "with smoke"; see BHS.
148 "My Words Are Lovely "

5. Scorched like grass and shriveled up is my heart

for I have forgotten to eat my food.
6. Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my skin.
7. I am like an owl in the wilderness;
I am like an owl in the ruins.5
8. I lie awake;
I am like a bird lonely on a housetop.
9. All day long my enemies insult me;
those who rave against me use my name in a curse.
10. For ashes I eat like bread,
and my drinks I mingle with tears
11. because of your wrath and your fury;
for you have lifted me up and cast me aside.
12. My days are like a lengthening shadow,
and I am shriveled up like grass.
13. But you, Yahweh, sit enthroned forever
and memory of you continues generation after generation.
14. You will arrive and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to be gracious to her; for the appointed time has come.
15. For your servants hold her stones dear
and her rubble they pity.
16. Then nations will fear the name of Yahweh
and all the kings of the earth your glory,
17. for Yahweh will rebuild Zion6
and appear in glory
18. and turn to the prayer of the forsaken
and not despise their prayer.
19. Let this be written down for a generation to come
so that a people yet to be created will praise Yah(weh)
20. for Yahweh7 has looked down from the holy height,
looked out from heaven to earth
21. to hear the prisoner's groan,
to release those marked for death,
22. to celebrate in Zion the name of Yahweh
and (Yahweh's) praise in Jerusalem,
23. when peoples gather together,
and kingdoms, to worship Yahweh.
24. (Yahweh) has broken my strength8 in midcourse,
shortened my days.
25. I say, "My God, do not take me away in the middle of my days,
you whose years endure through the generations.

4. Reading IplOD; see BHS. Alternate renderings are "glowing embers" or "burning mass" or
5. The identification of the birds is unclear. The sense suggests isolation; some interpreters
associate that with uncleanness. See A. A. Anderson, The Books of Psalms (NCB; London:
Oliphants, 1973), 2:706^-7; Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC 21; Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983), 9.
6. Translation of the verbs in this section is problematic. I take my clue from v. 14 that the
restoration of Zion is in the future. I take the verbs in w. 17-18 as "perfects of certainty."
7. Here transferring the atnah with BHS.
8. Following Qere: see BHS.
BELLINGER Psalm 102 149

26. Of old you laid the foundations of the earth

and the heavens are the work of your hands.
27. They will perish, but you will endure;
all of them will decay like a garment.
You change them like clothing and they pass away.9
28. But you are the same10
and your years do not end.
29. The children of your servants will remain
and their offspring will be established in your presence.

Literary Issues
Let us first observe the structure of the poem. The first movement consists of
w. 2-12. The psalm begins with an introductory plea for help (w. 2-3). The
plea is for Yahweh to hear, incline the ear, and not hide the divine face during
this time of crisis and prayer; these opening verses use terms characteristic of
individual lament psalms. A description of the distress follows with attention to
personal suffering, the taunting of enemies, and rejection by God. The physical
imagery used to describe the suffering is quite strong and heightens the rhetori-
cal impact.11 The bones, the heart, and the skin burn, wither, and pass away. Life
fades like smoke driven by the wind. The petitioner is isolated, weak, and
parched. Verse 4 introduces this part of the continuing prayer with the particle
*?, suggesting that the description of the crisis to serve as a motivation for
Yahweh to hear the prayer. The use of "days" in w. 4 and 12 (see also w. 3 and
9) and the image of withering like grass (w. 5 and 12) unify w. 4-12. Similes
with the preposition D run throughout this section. The images press the prayer
toward the theme of the brevity and transience of human life. The plea
emphasizes the first person"I"in this plea to "you" (Yahweh). The address
to Yahweh is quite direct. It is possible to view v. 13 as the positive conclusion
to this first movement of the prayer. The unity we have seen in w. 2-12,
however, argues for reading v. 13 with the second movement.12
The second movement of the psalm (w. 13-23) begins with a strong contrast,
a classic example of what Westermann has dubbed the wow adversative.13 The
contrast is between the human transience portrayed in w. 2-12 and the lasting
quality of Yahweh's kingship. Yahweh's reputation as sovereign creator and
king is not short-lived like human days (v. 4), but lasts into eternity. That
affirmation leads the poet to a prophetic vision of God's restoration of Zion. The
time of restoration is at hand, in contrast to the afflicted psalmist's days of

9. Note the two uses of the root word *)*?n.

10. Context supports this rendering.
11. The commentaries discuss this imagery. See Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150: A
Commentary (trans. H. C. Oswald; CC; Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989), 285; Allen, Psalms 101-150,
14; J. Clinton McCann, Jr., "The Book of Psalms," NIB 4:639-1280 (1087).
12. See McCann, "Book of Psalms," 4:1087; Richard J. Clifford, Psalms 73-150 (AOTC;
Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 140.
13. Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms (trans. K. R. Crim and R. N. Soulen;
Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), 70.
150 "My Words Are Lovely "

suffering described in the first movement of the psalm. This act of renewal will
demonstrate God's presence and activity again in Zion as a response to the pleas
of the worshiping community that holds dear this sacred place. This vision of
restoration leads the poet to declare that this act of deliverance needs to be
recorded so that future generations will comprehend its significance and join in
the praise of God. God cares for this worshiping community and brings release
and hope to the hopeless. The community's praise narrates this saving act so that
the entire world will see and worship Yahweh as king. An emphasis on Zion and
the divine name dominate this movement of the poem; repeated vocabulary also
unifies the section.14
The background of this section of the psalm is likely the destruction of
Jerusalem in the sixth century. Its form is of particular interest. It affirms the
eternal kingship of God and envisions God's acting as king in the restoration of
Zion, with the community's subsequent praise. Underlying the poetry is a plea
that God restore Zion. That seems to be the function of the poetry. The uses of
the particle *? support that contention.15 In v. 14, *? introduces a motivation for
God to restore Zion ("for it is time to be gracious to her"). The following verse
uses the same particle to say that Yahweh should restore Zion because the faith
community holds this place so dear. The nations will acknowledge God because
f?) the divine king will appear and restore Zion (v. 17). Each of these
motivations is intended to persuade God. The next use of the particle is in v. 20,
which begins the articulation of a reason, with *?, for future praise: God's mer-
ciful attention to the needy community of Zion. This rationale for future praise
of God had actually begun in v. 18, where God will hear "the prayer of the
To review, the second movement of the psalm offers praise to God and
assurance for the community. It makes a decisive turn toward the restoration of
Zion. Verse 13 offers praise to God as the everlasting king who will rebuild
Zion. At the same time, this second movement of the psalm beckons God to
bring that assurance to reality. Both the petitioner (w. 2-12) and the community
(w. 13-23) urgently need God's deliverance. The petition in the first movement
of the psalm is more direct, but the first two movements both raise the question
of whether the divine king will bring hope. The intense language has a powerful
rhetorical effect.
With v. 24, we are back to the individual's petition and concern that the
speaker's "days" have been shortened and the plea that God will not end the
poet's life prematurely. This brief reprise (w. 2425) of the petition of the first
movement of the psalm concentrates entirely on God's part in this crisis (see
v. 11). In addition, the affirmation of divine kingship in v. 13 has the effect of
casting a glaring searchlight on the suffering of the poet in w. 2-12, with the
stark contrast between human transience and enduring divine kingship. In w.
2425, however, the prayer appears to be put in the context of that enduring

14. Allen, Psalms 101-150, 13-14.

15. Craig C. Broyles, Psalms (NIBCOT; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1999), 392.
BELLINGER Psalm 102 151

divine kingship as a basis of hope. Verses 26-29 take readers back to the
affirmations of divine kingship in the second movement of the psalm, with
attention to God's continuing presence and the hope for God's restoration of the
community. God from of old created the world and continues to endure even
beyond the creation. No matter how much the natural world changes, God
endures. That affirmation of continuing divine sovereignty brings the poem to a
concluding word of hope. In the midst of such chaos and calamity, God's
servants, God's worshiping community, will find security. God will restore Zion
and be gloriously present there for generations to come. Such a conclusion seeks
to persuade hearers/readers of hope in a time of trouble.
I treat w. 24-29 together as the third movement of the psalm because they
present a brief and muted reprise of the first two movements.16 We have moved
from an abject cry for help, to a vision of hope, and now hear an echo of the
prayer and affirmation of hope, based on the creation theology dominant in
Book IV of the Psalter. Just as the poet's days pass like smoke (v. 4), so the
natural world will pass away (v. 27). But in the concluding movement of the
poem, these changes are all held in the creator's presence.17 Future generations
of God's servants rest secure in the affirmation of continuing divine sovereignty.
The literary analysis suggests that the psalm is a petition that includes both
individual and community dimensions, and a petition that ends with a hopeful
What I have described so far is the majority view on the structure of the poem.
I consider it quite plausible as a reading of the psalm's structure, as described
below, but it is not the only possibility. Readers can observe that an alternative
reading of this structure is also plausible.

An Alternative Reading
The first section of the psalm voices a complaint against Yahweh. The circum-
stance of the speaker is, as I have already suggested, quite desperate. The person
endures suffering, taunting from enemies, and rejection from God. The emphasis
is on v. 11; it is God who has caused the crisis in wrath and fury and has cast
aside the psalmist. With v. 13 we encounter the contrast between the human
transience described in w. 2-12 and the lasting quality of Yahweh's kingship.
In this second reading of the poetry, however, the contrast indicates not a
decisive turn toward restoration but an intensification of the complaint. What is

16. See Bernhard Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today (3d ed.;
Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 84-87; Clifford, Psalms 73-150, 142: "Because the
contrast between mortality and eternity has been so clearly drawn up to this point, the psalm needs
only to mention the points of contrast." See Allen, Psalms 101-150,14, for other marks of unity in
w. 24-29.
17. Carroll Stuhlmueller, Psalms (Old Testament Message; Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier,
1983), 103.
18. I would suggest that mere is more diversity in the prayer than allowed in attempts to
classify it entirely as an individual lament. See Westermann, Praise and Lament, 64-75; Kraus,
Psalms 60-150,283-84.
152 "My Words Are Lovely "

more, the continuing complaint insists that Yahweh restore Zion. It is jolly well
time for that to happen! Yahweh has dawdled too long. And when Yahweh
effects this restoration, it should be written down to document it. Only then will
Yahweh have carried out the required covenant obligations. In this reading, v.
13 is not so much a pivot toward hope as a move to a heightened poetic voice in
which the assault upon Yahweh continues.19
Verses 24-29 press the case for Yahweh to act. These concluding verses'
reprise of the psalm's opening lament emphasizes that God is the one who has
brought about this crisis. The conclusion of the psalm presses the case that
Yahweh endures but that the psalmist's life, and indeed all of creation, will fade
away. Thus Yahweh is the one who can bring restoration, and the conclusion of
the poem insists that Yahweh do so. The final verse can be read as a plea that
Yahweh establish a future for the community of faith.
This second reading of the poetic structure understands Ps 102 as part of the
Psalter's complaint tradition, prayers that accuse Yahweh of causing the crisis at
hand and complain that the divine king should resolve the trouble. The psalm's
superscription labels it a "complaint" and the concluding verses place the cause
of the woe squarely in Yahweh's hands. It seems to me that the poem is plausi-
bly susceptible to more than one reading.
The standard move of commentators is to make a decision about which read-
ing of the poem to follow. I suspect that most readers of the Psalms would prefer
the first reading, but I want to suggest that the need to decide between the
readings is unnecessary. I propose that Ps 102 provides an example of poetic
ambiguity. In literary studies, die notion of ambiguity is usually related back to
William Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity, a work first published in 1930.20
According to Empson, multiple meaning or plurisignation may not be a fault in
style but rather may be inherent in the complexity and richness of poetic lan-
guage. The ambiguity revealed in plausible multiple readings of Ps 102 can thus
be viewed positively as both complicating and enriching our understanding of
the poem. I suggest that we relish the poetic ambiguity and allow both readings
to stand. A reading strategy attuned to poetic ambiguity is important.21

Canonical Issues
In this next section, I will address the setting of Ps 102 in the Psalter and in the
wider canon. First, however, I should attend to the superscription. The super-
scription to Ps 102 is unusual and provides an important insight into the nature

19. We have already seen the ambiguity present in the verbs in w. 13-23. It appears that the
verbs allow the two readings proposed for this part of the psalm.
20. M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms (3d ed.; Dallas: Holt, Rinehart & Winston,
1971), 8-9; Babette Deutsch, Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms (4th ed.; New York: Funk &
Wagnalls, 1974), 11-12; Julian Wolfreys, Ruth Robbins, and Kenneth Womack, Key Concepts in
Literary Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002), 5-6.
21. For an affirmation of poetic ambiguity in the specifics of a text, see Patrick D. Miller,
"Poetic Ambiguity and Balance in Psalm XV," VT29 (1979): 416-24.
BELLINGER Psalm 102 153

of the psalm. It describes the content of the psalm. The poet is an n3tf, standing
among the lowly, the needy, the afflicted who search for God's help. The poet is
without strength, fainting and so pours out this powerful plea to God. This head-
ing is the first commentary on the psalm and invites later readers to pray the
prayer as those seeking God's help. The superscription shows that the psalm has
continued to have a place in the worshiping community.
The superscription's labeling of the psalm as a 'prayer' invites readers to
consider the prayer alongside other prayers in the Psalter and beyond. Leslie
Allen notes a number of links with Ps 69.22 That psalm is a prayer for deliver-
ance that comes to a positive conclusion based on God's hearing the needy.
Psalm 69 also looks forward to the creator's restoring Zion and providing a
future for its community. Psalm 22 is another stereotypical lament that affirms
the kingship of God (w. 4 and 29). Its concluding section speaks of praise as
future generations learn of God's great acts of deliverance. The conclusion of
Ps 22 also casts an individual prayer in the context of hope for the community,
perhaps in the shadow of the fall of Jerusalem. Those elementsaffirmation of
the kingship of God, future praise of God, the individual's tie to the community,
and the connection to the context of exileare all present in Ps 102.
It is also not surprising to hear of connections between Ps 102 and the book
of Lamentations, especially ch. 5. The poems in Lamentations bemoan the fall
of Zion and seek its restoration. The fifth chapter finds some hope in the king-
ship of God (v. 19). Some interpreters have also noted links with Isa 40-55. A
link between Ps 102 and Deutero-Isaiah would fit the exilic context and the
hopes for the restoration of Zion.23 Psalm 102 is one of a number of texts in the
Hebrew Scriptures that interpret the experience of lament in terms of the
definitive community crisisthe destruction of life tied to the fall of Jerusalem.
The closer canonical setting of Ps 102 is Book IV of the Hebrew Psalter.
Gerald Wilson notes that the psalm returns to themes in the book's initial poem,
Ps 90.24 For Wilson, the themes found in Ps 102 are:
1. The transient nature of humanity is emphasized.
2. In contrast, the psalmist sets the eternality of God.
3. God's wrath is poured out because of divine indignation with humans.
4. And yet the servants' children "will dwell secure." Yahweh will relieve
the distress of the people.
For Wilson, the above themes suggest an intentional allusion to the beginning of
Book IV. Psalm 102 fits nicely into Book IV.25 It assumes the kingship of God
in Zion, as emphasized in the book's preceding psalms. It also has connections
with Ps 103; note especially the contrast between the human and the divine in
Ps 103:15-19.26 Psalms 90 and 106 as bookends suggest that Book IV, following

22. LeslieC. Allen, "The Value of Rhetorical Criticism in Psalm 69," JBL 105 (1986): 591-95.
23. Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 285-87, has noted prophetic dimensions in Ps 102.
24. Gerald Henry Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (SBLDS 76; Chico, Calif:
Scholars Press, 1985), 218.
25. McCann, "Book of Psalms," 4:1086.
26. See Allen, Psalms 101-150,10.
154 "My Words Are Lovely"

the fall of the kingdom in Ps 89, is struggling to come to terms with the experi-
ence of exile. Central to that effort is the poetic affirmation of the kingship of
God in Pss 93-100. That divine enthronement underlies the Davidic king's oath
of office in Ps 101. With Ps 102 readers are brought back to the crushing reality
of exile. Psalms 103-105 pursue hopeful themes, perhaps in tandem with our
first reading's conclusion in Ps 102. At the end of Ps 102, there is hope found in
the continuing presence of God. That theme continues in the next three psalms.
The opening of Ps 106 continues in the same vein, but in due time, the conclud-
ing psalm of Book IV brings readers back to the harsh realities of exile and
pleads for divine deliverance. The sequence of the psalms in Book IV provides a
hermeneutical clue for readers and a fruitful context for reading Ps 102. Ques-
tions of exile and the future press upon readers. Content and context near the
conclusion of Book IV suggest that the psalmists seek a rhetorical effect upon
readers/hearers who still deal with the aftermath of defeat.

Theological Issues
We come finally in an explicit way to theological issues. First, Ps 102 inter-
twines individual and community. Prayers of both individual and community are
given full voice. Corporate prayer is equally fervent and does not exclude the
voice of the individual of faith. The psalm will not allow any privatization of
genuine faith. Hope for the one offering urgent petition in w. 2-12 begins to
emerge when that individual voice moves out of isolation into the context of
prayer and hope tied to the community. The psalm's opening movement urges
upon readers a severe crisis of an individual, but the conclusion of the psalm
puts hope in the midst of trouble squarely in the community context. That move-
ment is mirrored in the shape of the Hebrew Psalter as a whole.
Second, the poet urgently seeks to integrate faith with reality. The commu-
nity's affirmation is that God is king, and yet the poet is not experiencing the
wholeness in life that divine sovereignty should portend. How does the affirma-
tion of faith in Yahweh as king who endures relate to the current crisis for the
psalmist and the current rubble that is the community of Zion? The psalm affirms
divine kingship. Based on that affirmation, the petitioner urges that God demon-
strate that kingship by bringing hope out of the current crisis. The poetry seeks
to persuade its primary audienceGod. Prayer, the honest dialogue of faith, is
about putting lived experience together with the faith that has been received.
The psalm insists on divine sovereignty, even in the face of trouble and woe.
The affirmation of God as creator and sovereign persists, and the poem brings
that affirmation into dialogue with the present evil age. The psalm's affirmation
of divine kingship is no trivial word. The prayer brings that affirmation into
clear and honest connection to the current trouble. Ralph Klein notes Ps 102 as
one of the texts that enabled Israel's theologians to cope with exile, based on the
kingship of Yahweh.27 The poet appropriates creation and Zion theology to

27. Ralph W, Klein, "Theology for Exiles: The Kingship of Yahweh," Di 17 (1978): 128-34.
BELLINGER Psalm 102 155

evoke a fervent vision of hope for worshipers who faint in the face of powerful
calamity. The psalm views life straightforwardly. Here the notion of poetic
ambiguity is again helpful. We know from the Hebrew Scriptures that there
were various responses to the exilic crisis. Klein reads Ps 102 in line with
Lamentations' response of grief and perhaps hopes in the kingship of Yahweh.
Our second reading of the poem would put it more in line with the responses in
Pss 44, 74, and 79. They take a more accusing and insistent tone, urging that
Yahweh attend to covenant obligations and bring restoration. Psalm 102 may
well reflect a "reading" of the time of exile in terms of life's ambiguity. It is
conceivable that the poet intended this kind of poetic ambiguity in Ps 102, but
we are unable to come to a conclusion on that question. What we can say is that
as readers make sense of Ps 102 in their conversation with the text, more than
one connotation of lament is feasible and formative in the exilic setting.
The powerful rhetoric of Ps 102 seeks to persuade God to act for restoration.
The psalm also operates in a context of human readers/hearers, both in an
original and in subsequent settings. We have seen that the poetry can persuade
in more than one direction.
Third, I come to a brief note on the reception history of our psalm in the
Christian tradition. Psalm 102 is the fifth of the Church's seven penitential
psalms (Pss 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143). There is no explicit expression of
penitence. The suggestions of divine judgment (w. 11, 14, 24) may have
implied penitence. Mays suggests that the penitential psalm can be appropriated
in two ways.28 On the one hand, we can read the psalm as the prayer of God's
people who believe and hope that the reign of God will endure over even their
failure. The Church under God's judgment can use the psalm to turn to the
necessity of grace in God's kingdom. Or, on the other hand, readers can pray the
poem as worshipers who envision their individual deliverance from judgment in
the context of God's renewal of the Church, as heir to the restoration of Zion.
I would agree with Robert Culley that the individual, corporate, and cosmic
dimensions of Ps 102 are left unresolved.29 Contemporary readers/hearers are
thus encouraged to pursue the various perspectives in the text. The rhetorical
impact continues for contemporary audiences. Given the complexity and rich-
ness of poetic texts, that conclusion only seems reasonable.

28. Mays, Psalms, 325-26.

29. Robert C. Culley, "Psalm 102: A Complaint with a Difference," Semeia 62 (1993): 19-35.
PS ALMS 105 AND 106

Thomas H. Olbricht

Psalms 105 and 106 are of special interest for this essay because they are com-
monly understood to belong to the narrative or historical psalms.1 And though
several scholars have published on the rhetoric of the Psalms, many have failed
to note the distinctive rhetorical features of the narrative psalms.2 In the present
study, I will first reflect on comments on narration made by the classical rhetori-
cians and modern form critics, following which I proceed to make my own
rhetorical observations on Pss 105 and 106. Given that classical rhetoricians
provided few insights into the rhetorical characteristics of narratives, in the
present rhetorical analysis it will be necessary for me to develop my own guide-
lines based upon the social location, presuppositions, forms, and structures
located in the Psalms and elsewhere in the Old Testament.

The Rhetoricians on Narrative

The classical rhetoricians did not comment directly on narratival discourse; for
them, narrative was one element making up a speech. Aristotle, for example,
declared that there are three genres of speechforensic, deliberative, and epi-
deicticand thought that a narrative section was especially useful in the forensic
(courtroom) speech: "For narrative only belongs in a manner to forensic speech,
but in epideictic or deliberative speech how is it possible that there should be
narrative as it is defined, or a refutation?"3 In the forensic speech, according to
Aristotle, the purpose of the narrative was to set forth the facts of the case.
Aristotle believed that in some instances the facts were generally known and so
little narrative description was required. He rejected the nuanced divisions of
narrative proposed by Theodorus.4

1. Bernhard W. Anderson (Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today [Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1983], 235) identifies three additional narrative psalms: Pss 78,135, and 136. See also
F. C. Fensham, "Neh. 9 and Pss. 105,106,135 and 136: Post-exilic Historical Traditions in Poetic
Form," JNSL 9 (1981): 35-51.
2. Several studies are listed in Duane F. Watson and Alan J. Mauser, Rhetorical Criticism of
the Bible: A Comprehensive Bibliography With Notes on History and Method (Leiden: Brill, 1994),
3. Aristotle, Rhetoric 3.13.3 (ed. J. Freese; LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
4. Ibid., 3.13.5.
OLBRICHT The Rhetoric of Two Narrative Psalms 157

Aristotle asserted that an epideictic speech did not need a narrative, and
proposed that if a narrative element was present, it did not necessarily have to
appear in a single location; rather, it could be distributed throughout the speech.
Were the narrative too lengthy, Aristotle contended, the auditors would soon
forget the details. It was therefore better for the narrative component to be short
and employed only when necessary.5 The orator, he declared, should "narrate
anything that tends to show your own virtue."6 He further declared that narrative
should be of a moral character and "draw upon what is emotional by the intro-
duction of such of its accompaniments as are well known, and of what is
specially characteristic of either yourself or your adversary."7
It is clear, then, that for Aristotle the main function of narrative was to
enhance the character of the speaker and to vilify his detractors. These charac-
teristics are especially manifest in eulogistic discourses. We can therefore antici-
pate what occurs in the praise narratives of Pss 105 and 106God will be
praised for his mighty acts ofhesed and Israel will be denounced for her failure
to respond in kind.
The Rhetorica adHerennium makes it clear that "The Narration or Statement
of Facts sets forth the events that have occurred or might have occurred."8 The
author declares that there are three types of narrative: (1) narrative imparting
facts in order to win a case; (2) narrative serving to win belief or incriminate an
adversary; (3) narrative based on facts and persons. According to him,
The kind of narrative based on the exposition of the facts presents three forms:
legendary, historical, and realistic. The legendary tale comprises events neither true nor
probable, like those transmitted by tragedies. The historical narrative is an account of
exploits actually performed, but removed in time from the recollection of our age.
Realistic narrative recounts imaginary events, which yet could have occurred, like the
plots of comedies.9
The author then proceeded to describe the characteristics of narratives based on
persons. He wrote,
A narrative based on the person should present a lively style and diverse traits of
character, such as austerity and gentleness, hope and fear, distrust and desire, hypocrisy
and compassion, and the vicissitudes of life, such as reversal of fortune, unexpected
disaster, sudden joy, and a happy outcome.10

On the basis of this, One might later raise the question in regard to Pss 105 and
106 as to the manner in which God exemplifies certain characteristics.

5. For example, one need only mention the name of Achilles, a figure whose story was known
to everyone. Ibid., 3.16.3.
6. Ibid., 3.16.5.
7. Ibid., 3.16.8, 10.
8. The Rhetorica ad Herennium was for a thousand years attributed to Cicero, but is now almost
universally accepted as the work of an unknown author. The composition is usually dated to around
85 B.c.E. It is the first complete work on rhetoric that has come down to us in Latin. Cited from
[Cicero] ad C. Herennium: De Ratione Dicendi (Rhetorica adHerennium} (ed. H. Caplan; LCL;
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), 9.
9. Ibid., 23-25.
10. Ibid., 25.
158 "My Words Are Lovely "

Since Cicero adds few additional observations in De Inventione and De

Oratore, we will segue to Quintilian. In his Institutio Oratorio, Quintilian
declared that there are three forms of narrative: (1) fictitious; (2) realistic; and
(3) historical.11 It is to the latter that we should give special attention, not least
because Quintilian did not elaborate specifically on each of the three narrative
forms. (Presumably, most of Quintilian's comments following his identification
of the three narrative forms relate the third category, the historical.)
Quintilian presumably deferred commenting on the narratio until he had
treated forensic speaking, most likely because he believed that, of the three
genres, the stating of facts was the most crucial element in the courtroom. Inter-
estingly, Quintilian espoused a view contrary to the one taken by many authori-
tiesnamely, that the statement of facts should be brief and in some cases
eliminated altogether, especially when the facts have already been presented by
a previous speaker.12 Quintilian further declared that the purpose of the state-
ment of facts is not merely to instruct the judge, but to persuade him.13 In this
lengthy section on the narrative or statement of facts, Quintilian discussed the
magnificence of the style, the tone of voice, the inclusion of emotion, the length
of the statement, and the delivery. He argued that these attributes vary depend-
ing upon the case and how it unfolds in court.14
From these brief observations on the classical rhetoricians on narrative, it is
clear that their analysis was limited to speeches in three social locations: in the
courtroom (forensic); in the political assembly (deliberative); in the market
place, palace, or temple (epideictic). Of these, the courtroom was undoubtedly
the most important. The discourses scrutinized by the rhetoricians did not
include liturgical type materials, nor historical narratives as found, for example,
in the writings Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, and Pliny. Neither did they peruse
the narrative poetry of Homer and Virgil. These assortments of literary pieces
were not within the purview of the social locations upon which the ancient
rhetoricians focused.15
The social locations of Pss 105 and 106 are different from those identified for
the types of discourse treated by the ancient rhetoricians. The most likely place
at which these psalms were uttered or sung was in the temple at Jerusalem. Artur
Weiser has argued in respect of Ps 105 that "the psalm was originally used in the
festival cult of the Yahweh community."16 Mitchell Dahood maintained that

11. Quintilian, Institutio Oratorio 2.4.2. These citation are from The Institutio Oratorio of
Quintilian (ed H. E. Butler; LCL; 4 vols.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1920).
12. Ibid., 4.2.1-20.
13. Ibid., 4.2.21.
14. Ibid., 4.2.61-132; 9.4.133-47; 11.3.161-64.
15. For additional comments on the merit of the three classical genres for rhetorical analysis of
Scriptures see my essay "The Foundations of the Ethos in Paul and the Classical Rhetoricians," in
Rhetoric, Ethic, and Moral Persuasion in Biblical Discourse (ed. Thomas H. Olbricht and Anders
Eriksson; New York: T&T Clark International, 2005), 138-47.
16. Autur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary (trans. Herbert Hartwell; OTL; Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1962), 673.
OLBRICHT The Rhetoric of Two Narrative Psalms 159

Ps 105 was "probably composed for one of the major Israelite festivals."17 Given
the likely differences of social location, I conclude that only limited insights
may be obtained from the classical rhetoricians regarding the varieties of narra-
tive discourse. We need, as a result, to reflect upon social location and the roles
of these narrative psalms in the life of Israel. With this in mind, I will commence
with the insights of gained via form criticism since it is from this perspective
that Old Testament scholars have customarily taken up these matters.
Form criticism has undergone a re-examination in recent years. In 1969, for
example, Muilenburg argued that the focus of form criticism was too narrowly
defined; he proposed rhetorical criticism as an alternative.18 Rolf Knierim and
Gene M. Tucker also recognized problems with form criticism, and so advanced
a revisionist proposal for wider and less rigid genres.19 Yet, in spite of the nega-
tive charges that have been leveled against form criticism, many Old Testament
scholars are still committed to the importance of the method. A recent effort at
reassessment is a book of essays collected and edited by Marvin A. Sweeney
and Ehud Ben Zvi.20 In this volume, Antony F. Campbell, S. J., wrote,
It is of the nature of form criticism to study how the parts of a text interrelate to form a
whole and to give it meaning. The more advanced and specialized academic biblical
study becomes, the greater the need at the right times to pull back and view the whole.
The enormous contribution of form criticism to future biblical studies may be in
requiring and legitimating this view of the whole.21

Hyun Chul Paul Kim suggested in an essay in the same volume that the four
subcategories of the discipline are "structure, setting, genre, and intent."22 While
I find myself in agreement with Kim's observations, in the following pages
I prefer to discuss the subcategories not according to Kim's sequence, but rather
in the order most appropriate to the analyses of the discourses under con-

17. Mitchell Dahood, Psalms III: 101-150(AB 17A; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), 51.
See also William R. Taylor, "The Book of Psalms," IB: 17-763 (557).
18. James Muilenburg, "Form Criticism and Beyond," JBL 88 (1969): 1-18. Considerable
effort has been given to rhetorical analysis of the Scriptures, and while some new methods have been
proposed, no consensus regarding procedures has emerged. See Vernon K. Robbins, "From Heidel-
berg to Heidelberg: Rhetorical Interpretation of the Bible at the Seven Tepperdine' Conferences
from 1992 to 2002," in Olbricht and Eriksson, eds., Rhetoric, Ethic, and Moral Persuasion, 335-77.
19. See Rolf Knierim and Gene M. Tucker's Foreword to Roland E. Murphy, Wisdom Litera-
ture: Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Canticles, Ecclesiastes (FOTL 13; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), x.
See also, Martin J. Buss, "Form Criticism: Hebrew Bible," in Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation
(ed. John H. Hayes; 2 vols.; Nashville: Abingdon, 1999), 1:406-13.
20. Marvin A. Sweeney and Ehud Ben Zvi, eds., The Changing Face of Form Criticism for the
Twenty-First Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).
21. Antony F. Campbell, S. J., "Form Criticism's Future," in Sweeney and Ben Zvi, eds., The
Changing Face of Form Criticism, 15-31 (24).
22. Hyun Chul Paul Kim, "Form Criticism in Dialogue With Other Criticisms: Building the
Multidimensional Structures of Texts and Concepts," in Sweeney and Ben Zvi, eds., The Changing
Face of Form Criticism, 85-104 (85).
160 "My Words Are Lovely "

The Genre and Social Location of Psalms 105 and 106

My proposal is that the genre of these Psalms is one that draws upon the
somewhat standardized Old Testament credos.23 The "credo" genre is to be
located among the various declarations in the Old Testament that Yahweh is to
be praised for his mighty deeds. Despite the diminution of Gerhard von Rad's
contention that the credos in Deut 26:5-9 and Josh 24:2-13 are the earliest, the
highlighting of a credo genre is of merit. About von Rad's claim, Campbell
Von Rad credited the shape and structure of the present Hexateuch (Genesis through
Joshua) to remote origins in the short historical credo and the themes of Israel's early
worship (cf. Deut 6:20-25; 26:5-9; Josh 24:2-13). Initially well received, this
understanding was doomed to dissatisfaction once it could be shown that the short
credos came late in the process, more as summaries than the original core from which
the process began.24

Regardless of the objections that have been raised to von Rad's theory, it is the
characteristics of the credos25 embedded in Old Testament texts, rather than any
specific chronological claims, that are of importance to present study essay.
The common features of these credosthe existence of which make possible
the identification of the genreare that they set forth the mighty acts of God in
basically chronological order and elicit at various junctures theological reflec-
tion and commitment. Another feature is that they are narrative in form. Most
often the mighty acts placarded are the grounds for praising and obeying Yah-
weh or, conversely, for condemning ungrateful Israel. The items listed in the
credos vary, as do the theological reflections. The credos are the means of
declaring Israel's and the people's identitynamely, as those persons for whom
Yahweh has acted mightily.
Psalms 105 and 106 appear in a worship or liturgical context, as do also Pss
78, 135 and 136. The Deut 26:5-9 credo envisions an Israelite at the place of

23. See Mark J. Boda, Praying the Tradition: The Origin and Use of Tradition in Nehemiah 9
(New York: de Gruyter, 1999).
24. Campbell, "Form Criticism", 20. See Jan Christian Gertz, "Die Stellung des kleinen
geschichtlichen Credos in der Redaktionsgeschichte von Deuteronomium und Pentateuch," in Liebe
und Gebot: Studien zum Deuteronomium (ed. Reinhart G. Kratz and Hermann Spieckermann;
GSttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000), 30-45, for the assigning of a late date. See now
especially Aelred Cody, O. S. B.," 'Little Historical Creed' or 'Little Historical Anamnesis'?," CBQ
68 (2006): 1^1.
25. Cody thinks that these affirmations should be labeled "anamnesis" rather than "creed."
The difference, as he perceives it (following Michael Downey, "Praying the Creed," in The New
Dictionary of Sacramental Worship [ed. Peter E. Fink, S. J.; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1990],
3034 [302]), is that a creed is "a concise, accepted, and approved statement of the central beliefs
held by an individual or community" (Cody," 'Little Historical Creed,'" 4). The anamnesis is rather,
"making present an object or person from the past," that is, a reactualization (Frank C. Senn,
"Anamnesis," in Fink, ed., New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship, 45-46 [48]; Cody, "'Little
Historical Creed,'" 4). While I appreciate the difference being made, I think for the purposes of the
form and structure of the genre the two are the same. Accordingly, I will propose only one genre, the
credo, and note the sense of the anamnesis when discussing the intent.
OLBRICHT The Rhetoric of Two Narrative Psalms 161

worship preparing to sacrifice. The worshiper is to go up to the priest, place their

offering before him, and then cite the credo.26
Other instances of the credo genre are found in speech contexts that may or
may not have implications for covenant renewal. In Deut 29:2-16, when Israel
was on the verge of entering the land, Moses addressed the people, reiterating
the mighty actions of God and calling upon them to observe the "words of this
covenant" given to them. As he neared death, Joshua in similar manner brought
the people together and reported the conventional acts whereby God created a
people unto himself (Josh 24:2-15). Joshua ended by calling upon Israel to chose
whether or not they would serve Yahweh who had done so much for Israel.
Samuel addressed Israel as they demanded a king and asked them seriously to
consider their request. As he spoke, Samuel proceeded to reiterate the "saving
acts of God" (1 Sam 12:6-15). In Ezek 20:5-26, Ezekiel declared the word of
the Lord to the elders of Israel by setting forth the standard mighty works of
God. He concluded that Israel was unresponsive and merited chastisement.27
The mighty actions of God can also be declared in prayer. The longest such
prayer is that of Ezra in Neh 9:6-38,28 in which Ezra offers a most complete list
of the mighty actions of Yahweh: creation, the promise to the fathers, the
exodus, the wilderness, the giving of the covenant and law, the conquest of the
land, and the promise to David and his descendents. Another such prayer is that
of Jer 32:16-25, which enumerates Yahweh's actions, and mentions the failure
of Judah to obey the law.

Intent and Structure

Now that we have looked at the genre and social setting of Pss 105 and 106, we
turn to the structure and intent of each Psalm individually. The structure is
chronological or narratival in each case, following the pattern of the credo genre
found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Though the details vary in just about
every case, some features are common throughoutespecially the exodus from
Egypt. The original social setting of these Psalms was most likely that of wor-
ship in the temple, though it is possible that, when manuscripts became more

26. The standard Christian credos were apparently created for a worship context, that is, for
recitation in the Christian assemblies including the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. These creeds
continue in the historical or narrative mode, but focus entirely upon the mighty acts of Jesus, though
they begin with God as the maker of the heavens and the earth. These creeds became the basis of the
catechisms and continued the historical nature of the Old Testament credos, for example, the
Catechizandis Rudibus of Augustine.
27. Speeches employing the Old Testament credo continue into the New Testament and include
Stephen's speech in Acts 7:2-53 (which only implies the death of Jesus) and Paul's address in the
synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:16-41). From the mid-point of his Antioch speech to its
end, Paul comments upon Jesus as the culmination of God's acts. Other New Testament speeches
focus completely on the new actions of God in Jesus Christ; note, for example, the speech of Peter in
Acts 10:34-43.
28. See Boda, Praying the Tradition. Boda sees Neh 9 as an example of a Gattung that includes
Ps 106.
162 "My Words Are Lovely "

readily available around the beginning of first century, Pss 105 and 106 may
have been used in private devotion (e.g. the case of the Ethiopian Eunuch
reading the Isaiah scroll [Acts 8:27]).29

Psalm 105
The purpose of Ps 105 is obviously the praise of Yahweh in the context of
temple worship.30 Specifically, Yahweh is to be praised because of his deeds,
wonderful works, miracles, and judgments (w. 1-6). Those who praise him are
the offspring of Abraham, "children of Jacob, his chosen ones" (v. 6). Just as
God demonstrates his goodness by his beneficent works, so his people are called
upon to declare his deeds to their associates and possibly to other peoples (w.
1-3).31 Yahweh is the God who acts powerfully in history. In the canonical
Scriptures, Yahweh is never addressed as an omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-
present deity. What was therefore required was a reiterating of some of his
actions so as to remind those who praise him that he impacted concretely on the
lives of their predecessors. The mighty actions of God in terms of specifics had
previously been identified in template fashion. Each author who iterated these
actions, however, was free to select among the proscribed entities in this catalog.
In Ps 105, ensuring that the descendents of Abraham "keep his statutes and
observe his laws" emerges as the reason why God acts in his mighty ways
(v. 45). Israel needs to be faithful in covenant in the same manner that Yahweh
is faithful. Yahweh's people are prompted by his magnificent actions to be a
people of praise and obedience.
The key action, according to Ps 105, was the gifting of the land which Yah-
weh first promised to Abraham and which in turn was re-promised to Isaac and
Jacob (Ps 105:9-10). The list of namesAbraham, Isaac, and Jacobis stan-
dard (see Exod 2:24; 6:3,8; 33:1; Deut 9:27; 2 Kgs 13:23; Jer 33:26; Acts 7:32).
One might wonder why Joseph is omitted, but no doubt the answer is that the
promise was only made to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-7; 17:1-8), Isaac (Gen
26:2-5), and Jacob(Gen 28:13-15). In Ps 105, unlike Pss 135:5-7 and 136:4-9,
no mention is made of the work of God in creation.32 At stake for this Psalmist is
that the land is now lost or has only been recently recovered. God is to be
praised greatly because he is ever mindful of his covenants (Ps 105:8,42).33

29. On the private reading of Scriptures, see Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early
Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).
30. So declares James L. Mays (Psalms [Louisville: John Knox, 1994], 338) without pin-
pointing the temple location.
31. Weiser, The Psalms, 673-74; J. Clinton McCann, Jr., "The Book of the Psalms," NIB
4:639-1280 (1103^1); Mays, Psalms, 337.
32. Frank-Lothar Hossfeld, "Eine poetische Universalgeschichte: Ps 105 im Kontext der
Psalmentrias," in Das Manna fattt ouch heute noch : Beitrdge zur Geschichte und Theologie des
Alien, Ersten Testaments: Festschrift fur Erich Zenger (ed. Frank-Lothar Hossfeld; Freiburg:
Herder, 2004), 294-311, suggests that Pss 104-106 are grouped together so that Ps 104 presents the
praise of God for his creation.
33. The views on the dating of the psalm vary. Mitchell Dahood (Psalms III: 101-150 [AB
17A; Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1970] ,51) posited a pre-exilic date for Ps 105 on the basis that
OLBRICHT The Rhetoric of Two Narrative Psalms 163

Following through chronologically as the events unfold in the Pentateuch, Ps

105 declares that God was especially watchful over the welfare of his people
and protected them against oppression and destruction (v. 14). The miraculous
nature of his actions is affirmed, but not given special elaboration (w. 5, 27).
Yahweh supplied the means by which his people prevailed over their foes
(v. 24). No special emphasis is given in Ps 105 to the graciousness or the stead-
fast love (hesed) of God, as in Pss 106 or 136; nevertheless, Yahweh led them
singing to the land that he had given them so that they "might keep his statutes
and observe his laws" (Ps 105:45).
These past actions are significant not in themselves, but because they give the
worshipers the confidence that Yahweh will continue these actions into the
present. Marty E. Stevens wrote:
But YHWH'S past actions are only interesting artifacts unless they are brought into the
present, that is, unless they are remembered. The present-day "chosen ones" are called
upon to remember the acts performed for previous "chosen ones" (vs. 5). By recounting
and remembering, we bring the past into the present and stand in the historical
procession of those whom YHWH has chosen.34

The larger structure of Ps 105 interestingly follows much the same pattern as
those observed by the classical rhetoricians. Discourse, we might observe, has
certain universal characteristicsfor example, a beginning, a body, and an end.
Psalm 105 begins with an introductory statement that determines die purpose of
the piece, namely, to praise God for his mighty works (w. 1-6). The proposition
of the psalm is set forth by declaring that Yahweh is faithful to the covenant,
first made with Abraham, in which he promised the land of Canaan to Israel
(w. 7-11).35 That this is the main point of the psalm is clarified by the repeated
positive affirmation of the covenant at the end of the psalm (v. 42). The body of
the Psalm therefore sets out a case for the faithfulness of Yahweh in keeping his
covenant promises. In this regard, Ps 105 seems to belong to the forensic genre
of classical rhetoric. Yet, at the same time, this observation tells us little, other
than that a case is being built for Yahweh's covenant loyalty.

The Body. The body of the address consists of the specific acts through which
Yahweh orchestrated Israel's occupation of the land. The body is divided into
three parts. In the first part, the status of Israel prior to the occupation of the land
is declared (w. 12-15). The second part sets out certain details in respect to
Israel's long residency in Egypt (w. 16-25). The third part, the most fully
developed of the main points, tells of the miracles performed by Moses and

Ps 105:1-15 is found in 1 Chr 16:8-22. McCann (The Book of the Psalms," 4:1104) locates the
psalm in the exilic or post-exilic period, while Abraham Cohen (The Psalms [London: Soncino,
1950], 344) dates the psalm after the return from exile. Svend Holm-Nielsen ("The Exodus Tradi-
tions in Psalm 105," ASTI11 [1977-78]: 22-30) thinks the psalm is related to the exile regardless of
how it is dated.
34. Marty E. Stevens, "Between Text and Sermon: Psalm 105," Int 57 (2003): 187-89 (189).
35. Richard J. Clifford ("Style and Purpose in Psalm 105," Biblica 60 [1979]: 420-27) argues
that the land has been perpetually given to Israel out of God's grace whether or not Israel occupies it.
164 "My Words Are Lovely"

Aaron. The Psalmist recounts eight of the ten plagues reported in Exodus (w.
26-36). A second aspect of the work of Moses and Aaron is the departure of
Israel with silver and gold. After they departed, Yahweh provided a cloud by
day and fire by night, and in the wilderness he supplied quail, manna, and water
from the rock (w. 37-42). At the end of the psalm, Yahweh's graciousness in
bringing his people out of Egypt is heralded, the occupation of the land is high-
lighted, and the intimation that God has done all of this so that his people could
keep the law is affirmed (w. 43-45).
The first point made in the body of the psalm includes a description of the
early times in which Israel wandered among the various nations without honing
in upon a permanent place of dwelling. Even so, Yahweh is said to have worked
in the people's favor, so that no one oppressed or harmed them (w. 12-15). This
affirmation is a summary of the Genesis stories of the patriarchs. But even more,
it reflects the statements in Deut 26:5"A wandering Aramean was my ances-
tor; he went down into Egypt as an alien, few in number..."which has more of
the declaration than any of the other credos. Joshua 24:2 likewise emphasizes
the wandering:
Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestorsTerah and his sons
Abraham and Nahorlived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took
your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan
and made his offspring many.

Nehemiah 9:7 and Acts 7:2-5, in addition, pinpoint the move from Mesopo-
The conclusion is that Israel had small beginnings and they were without a
land, but because of the action and protection of Yahweh, they became a people
of consequence with a territory of their own. For that reason, Yahweh is obvi-
ously worthy of praise.
The second major action of God revolved around Joseph. Yahweh himself
brought a great drought to the Near East, and in order to preserve Israel he sent
Joseph ahead to Egypt, sold as a slave. The wording is parsimonious, but brings
to mind the lengthy Joseph saga. Instead of declaring that Joseph was incarcer-
ated, the Psalm describes the fettering of his feet and records that his neck was
constrained by a collar of iron. These details do not appear in the Genesis
account. One is here reminded of the instruction from the classical scholars that
narrative descriptions should be lively and magnificent. Thus, Ps 105 affirms
that though Joseph was clearly in harm's way, Yahweh forestalled any signifi-
cant injury.36

36. While the insights of narrative criticism are suggestive in terms of how this concretion may
influence the worshiper, we are not able through Ps 105 alone to lay out a plot or engage in character
analysis, two crucial components of narrative criticism. On narrative criticism, see M. A. Powell,
"Narrative Criticism," in Hayes, ed., Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, 2:201-4; Shimon Bar-
Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible (JSOTSup 70; Sheffield: Almond, 1989). On narrative criticism and
the New Testament, see James L. Resseguie, Narrative Criticism of the New Testament: An
Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005).
OLBRICHT The Rhetoric of Two Narrative Psalms 165

The rest of the depiction regarding Joseph is faithful to the Genesis story,
except for the observation that Joseph instructed officials at his pleasure and
taught "his elders wisdom" (Ps 105:22). Joseph as a dispenser of wisdom seems
especially significant in a post-exilic context, in which wisdom came to the fore.
It is also interesting that only in Stephen's sermon in the New Testament book
of Acts is Joseph given this much emphasis. Joseph's wisdom is mentioned
there too. The focusing upon wisdom also highlights the action of Yahweh, for
wisdom came from him (Dan 2:20-23).
The most extensive amount of space in Ps 105 is allotted to what Yahweh
achieved through Moses and Aaron in the Egyptian plagues. The Psalmist's
point in reiterating the plagues is that Yahweh performed his signs and miracles
through Moses and Aaron in Egypt (Ps 105:26-27). The order of these events
follows essentially those in Exodus, though two of the ten plagues are dropped
(the disease that destroyed the cattle and the boils). The arrival of the darkness is
moved from the ninth plague to the first and the gnats and the flies are reversed.
Why these changes are made is uncertain.37 Only five of the plagues are men-
tioned in Ps 78 and some items are added (e.g. caterpillars and frost, Ps 78:44-
51). This shows that the items in the genre are never presumed to be sacro-
sanct.38 The listing of the plagues is followed by a quick recounting of the cloud
and pillar of fire, the quail, the manna, and the water from the rock (Ps 105:39-
42). Together, these make the case that Yahweh has indeed remembered his
promise to Abraham.
The conclusion of Ps 105 makes it clear that the worshipers are to rejoice
because of the manner in which Yahweh has cared for them and gifted them
with land. He gave them the land so they could "keep his statutes and observe
his laws" (Ps 105:45). The benefits of keeping the law aren't explained in the
psalm, but, as spelled out in Deuteronomy, observance enables the people to
occupy the land, live a long life, and multiply resources (Deut 6:1-3).
The classical rhetoricians mentioned that in the narration the speaker should
show the virtue of the one they are defending, should be persuasive, and should
exhibit a lively style. The one defended and praised in this Psalm is Yahweh
alone and while it is not so much his virtues that are touted, the Psalmist has
made a persuasive case of Yahweh's salvific acts with lively language. The
psalm is persuasive in part because it employs a standard genre known by the
worshipers from other contexts of the Old Testament. The modus operandi is
successful in provoking hasty reflection upon the items set forth one after
another in order in building-block fashion to bring about a conviction that Yah-
weh did indeed in the past keep his covenant promises and that he will continue

37. Theodore Mascarenhas, "The Plagues: Darkness and Its Significance," in Fiihre mein Volk
heraus. Zur innerbiblischen Rezeption der Exodusthematik (ed. Simone Paganini et al.; Festschrift
fur Georg Fischer; Frankfurt: Lang, 2004), 79-93, declares that the reason is to show the defeat of
the Egyptian sun-god, but one could argue that for the same reason the darkness should have been
first in the exodus account.
38. McCann ("The Book of Psalms," 4:1105) suggests that the poet's chief concern was not
historical accuracy.
166 "My Words Are Lovely "

to do so in the future. The faith of Israel is always directed toward the mighty
acts of God and their implications. The biblical credos are never a recitation of
theological propositions motivated by Greek-type philosophizing, for example,
that God created ex nihilo, that he is impassible, and that he, in himself, com-
prises a trinity.

Psalm 106
The intent of Ps 106 is to reinforce the confidence of the believer that the
steadfast love of Yahweh endures despite the fact that Israel has, by her past
action, proven inconstant and thereby ungrateful and unworthy.39 A focus on the
guilt of Israel is much more characteristic of Pss 106, 78 and Neh 9 than of the
other credos (e.g. Pss 105; 136). The word hesed identifies the chief attribute of
God as Ps 106 opens (v. 1) and reoccurs toward the end (v. 45). The Psalmist
petitions Yahweh to remember him/her and all those participating in the wor-
ship. The outcome is that Ps 106 may be best described as a prayer of confession
and contrition.40
While I have identified the Psalm as historical, it is not didactic. As McCann
The purpose of Psalm 106 is not to impart information about the past. Rather it is to
invite gratitude, faithfulness, and obedience in the present as the prelude to a trans-
formed future.41

Volker Prostl argues that Ps 106 is dependent upon a review of Israel's

history in the Pentateuch.42 While the Psalm will be most persuasive for those
who know that history, the items singled out, as I have argued (i.e. the credo
genre), reflect an established list. None of the instances of the genre, however,
follow the conventional items slavishly.43
Most scholars agree that the social location of Ps 106 is liturgical. Weiser
argues specifically that it "seems to be connected with the autumn festival and
its tradition of the Heilsgeschichte"** Parts of Ps 106 are found elsewhere: v. 1
in Ps 136:1-2 and 1 Chr 16:34; w. 47-48 in 1 Chr 16:35-36.
The introduction to the Psalm commences with a somewhat standard
declaration of praise (Ps 106:1-2). Almost immediately the second part of the

39. George J. Brooke, "Psalms 105 and 106 at Qumran" RevQ 14 (1989): 267-92, argues that
Ps 105 appears to be old while Ps 106 seems to be composed in the early part of the second century
40. So Boda, Praying the Tradition. J. P. Oberholzer ("Opmerkings oor die teologie van Psalm
106," HvTSt 44 [1988]: 380-87) identifies the psalm as a confession of the saving grace of God
despite human worthlessness.
41. McCann, "The Book of Psalms," 4:1110.
42. Volker Pr6stl, Nehemia 9, Psalm 106 und Psalm 136 und die Rezeption des Pentateuchs
(GSttingen: Calvillier, 1997).
43. This psalm, much like Ps 105, is placed either in the time of the exile or after. Dahood
(Psalms ///, 67) proposed a date sometime after the exodus commenced. Weiser (The Psalms, 681)
leaves the question open.
44. Weiser, The Psalms, 679. See also Taylor, "The Book of Psalms," 565.
OLBRICHT The Rhetoric of Two Narrative Psalms 167

introduction employs the language of petition, turning the psalm into a prayer
psalm.45 The Psalmist petitions Yahweh: "Remember me, O Lord, when you
show favor to your people..." (v. 4). The Psalmist holds out the hope that God
will remember his people despite the fact that Israel has periodically forgotten
God. The reason why Yahweh should redeem Israel is so that she may experi-
ence the fecund bounty Yahweh confers, and in turn rejoice and glorify in him.
The request implies that God relishes human praise, a point repeated in a similar
manner at the conclusion of the Psalm: "that we may give thanks to your holy
name and glory in your praise" (v. 47)
The proposition of the Psalm is that Israel has constantly forgotten Yahweh in
the past and now again in the present. Israel has disregarded God's wonderful
deeds and the abundance of his hesed (w. 6-7). The Psalmist confesses that
Yahweh's people have not remembered him. Nevertheless their hope for the
future lies in the expectation that because of his hesed (w. 1, 7, 45), he will
never forget them!

The Body. The body of the Psalm lays out in detail the manner in which Israel
has failed to remember her blessed past. Despite her numerous infractions
against him, Yahweh has been gracious to Israel through his forgiving actions
over and over again. The long section in w. 6-39 comprises a detailed confes-
sion of specific acts of ingratitude. In that sense it sets out the specifics much as
in a forensic address. Yahweh's motivation for such salvific action resided in his
acting for the sake of his name (v. 8).
First, Yahweh acted powerfully for his people at the Red Sea (w. 9-12). Yet,
by several specific acts of rebellion in the wilderness, the Israelites demonstrated
that they willfully ignored God's dramatic deliverance of them from Egypt.
Second, Yahweh continued his unprecedented works in the wilderness.
Nevertheless, Israel persisted in their defiance. The main features of this section
are as follows:
(1) Yahweh gave Israel the food they requested, but they did not seek his
counsel (w. 13-15). Because of Israel's wanton disregard, Yahweh
sent among them a wasting disease.
(2) Israel was jealous of God's appointed leaders, Moses and Aaron, with
result that the ground swallowed up some and fire burned others (w.
(3) Likewise, in the wilderness at Horeb, Israel created and worshipped an
image cast in the form of a calf and scorned what Yahweh did in Egypt
and at the sea (w. 19-22). Yahweh would have destroyed them had it
not been for the intercession of Moses (v. 23).
(4) Israel grumbled about the land Yahweh promised (w. 2427). This
allusion points to the people's reaction when the spies returned and
reported on the difficulty of taking the land. The details, however, in
each case are not amplified, indicating the propensity of the Psalmist

45. McCann, "The Book of the Psalms," 4:1110.

168 "Afy Words Are Lovely "

simply to supply enough information so as to trigger in those hearing

the psalm a recollection of the fleshed-out, expanded narrative. As the
result of their rebellion, Yahweh determined that Israel would fall in
the wilderness. This punishment had future ramifications in that
Yahweh's people would be scattered among the nations. The allusion
to the exile may imply that the Assyrian and Babylonian defeats and
dispersion of the peoples had already occurred.
(5) Israel offered sacrifices to Baal of Peor with the result that a plague
broke out, a plague that was only stayed by the action of Phinehas (w.
(6) The people complained about the water at Meribah, provoking Moses'
rash utterance and his condemnation (w. 32-33).
At this juncture, the psalm moves on to the third major action of Yahweh, in
which he initiated the conquest and the conferring of the land (w. 34-39).
Despite Yahweh's command, Israel failed to destroy the nations and, as a result,
served idols and sacrificed their sons and daughters. The consequence was that
the land was polluted.
The Psalmist concludes Ps 106 by first observing that Yahweh gave his
people into the hands of their enemies (w. 40-43). Yet, despite their infidelity,
Yahweh delivered Israel from the distress. For Israel's sake, and not just his
own, Yahweh remembereddespite the fact that they forgotand demonstrated
once again that his hesedis forever (w. 4446). Second, the Psalmist returns to
the language of petition and calls upon Yahweh to gather Israel from among the
nations so that they may honor him through thanks and praise (v. 47). Third, as
at the beginning, the Psalmist utters eloquent words of praise to Yahweh God
The Psalm is effectively comprised of a praise and petition beginning, a body
of three major points, and a conclusion that returns to the concerns of the
introduction and the proposition. The second part of the body is that which
exhibits the most concretion, yet the outcome is not an ostensible imbalance. As
suggested by the rhetoricians, Ps 106 has a picturesque, lively, and often mag-
nificent style. In this regard, it often exceeds Ps 105.
The specific entities of the traditional credos addressed in the body of Ps 106
have to do with the exodus, the wilderness, and the land (specifically its con-
quest and retention). Psalm 106 differs from Ps 105 in that Ps 105 places most
attention on the plagues that took place prior to the exodus, whereas Ps 106
focuses upon the wilderness experience. The credo in Josh 24 mentioned the
wilderness, but focused upon details regarding the conquest. Psalm 106 has
affinities with 1 Sam 12:6-15 in providing details regarding the failure to con-
quer the foe in the period of the Judges. Samuel too stressed Israel's unfaithful-
ness and the resultant failure to defeat their enemies. In the long presentation in
Neh 9:12-25, the wilderness comes to the fore, but patently more as the context
in which Yahweh presented his covenant and law. Psalm 106 implies that
Yahweh had expectations for Israel, and mentions the giving of the law in the
OLBRICHT The Rhetoric of Two Narrative Psalms 169

wilderness. Nehemiah 9 also places considerable emphasis upon Yahweh's

provisions in the wilderness and in the early days of the conquest. Psalm 106
especially corresponds to Ps 78:15-40, though the details differ and Ps 106 sets
forth more examples of rebellion. The wilderness period provided numerous
examples of Israel's failure to react appropriately to God's benevolent actions.
Psalm 136 gives no attention to the wilderness period, but does offer a few
details regarding the conquest (w. 17-22). Stephen in Acts 7:38-44 focuses
upon the wilderness as a place in which the law was given, yet it was also in the
wilderness that the people sacrificed to the idol Aaron provided.
Ezekiel 20:10-22 especially parallels Ps 106 in regard to the wilderness as a
place of rebellion, though Ezekiel does not mention the specific acts committed
against Yahweh. Ezekiel 20 likewise stresses the view that Yahweh acted for the
sake of his name in the wilderness. Ezekiel also affirms that the people of Israel
will be scattered to the nations (Ezek 20:23-26). The comparisons with Ezekiel
show that, while similar elements of the credo are emphasized, differences also
emerge. Apparently, what was highlighted remained fluid from credo to credo.
It will therefore be of consequence to compare the theology found in Ps 106
with that of Ezek 20. The similarities too might go a long way toward securing
an exilic provenance for the psalm. God's forgiving action in not destroying
Israel despite their guilt is attributed to Yahweh acting for the sake of his name
three times in Ezek 20, but only once in Ps 106. Nevertheless, this theological
declaration is significant in Ps 106. In all the multiple cases of Israel's infrac-
tions Yahweh persisted with his faithless peoplethough along the way some
were destroyed and, more tragically, Israel lost its land. In Ps 106:8, the Psalmist
contends that Yahweh acted for the sake of his name; toward the end of the
psalm, he maintained that Yahweh acted impressively on Israel's behalf, not so
much for his own sake, and despite the people's failure to remember: "For their
sake he remembered his covenant..." (v. 45).
Yahweh acts for the sake of his name so that his power and goodness is
recognized among the nations. The peoples of the world come to realize that
Yahweh has special powers. When they recognize his name, show deference to
him as God, and hear his word, then the habitants of the earth are enabled to live
in such a manner that they benefit from his good gifts. This is an important
theme in the Old Testament, especially in Jer 14 and Ezek 20. Yet it also appears
much earlier, for example in Exod 9:17. Here Moses declares to Pharaoh, "But
this is why I have let you live: to show you my power, and to make my name
resound through all the earth." Katheryn Pfisterer Darr has appropriately pointed
out that,
Ezekiel is by no means the first to cite concern for God's reputation among the nations
as a motivation for not punishing this people. Within the Pentateuch, for example
Moses twice appeals to God along these lines. [Exodus 32:1-10; Numbers 14:25-33].46

46. Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, "The Book of Ezekiel," NIB 6:1073-67 (1279). She also in this
context discusses Ps 106:6-8.
170 "Afy Words Are Lovely "

Yahweh has shown special mercy or forgiveness to Israel not only for the sake
of his name, but also because of his long-standing hesed disclosed in his
covenant love (Ps 105:45). It is because of Yahweh's inexhaustible love that the
Psalmist can boldly declare, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel" (v. 48).
In both Ps 106 and Ezek 20 the scattering of Israel among the nations as the
result of their waywardness is affirmed. In Ps 106:40-43, Yahweh gave Israel
over to the nations, they were subjected to people they hated, and their enemies
oppressed them. The scattering occurred more than once in the time since
Yahweh delivered Israel, in the period between their rebellions. The covenant
and law are much more highlighted in Ezek 20 than in Ps 106. Israel will be
scattered again in a new wilderness, which is perhaps the reason for the empha-
sis on wilderness in both Ezekiel and Ps 106. Yahweh declared he would
disperse them "because they had not executed my ordinances, but had rejected
my statutes and profaned my sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their ances-
tors' idols" (Ezek 20:23-24).

I have employed both classical rhetoric and form criticism in the present study
so as to throw light upon Pss 105 and 106, a methodology which reaffirm the
original premise of Muilenburg's 1968 SBL presidential address. Each aspect of
this study has provided an enhanced perception of the power of the two psalms.
But more important insights have come about by pinpointing the unique
theological presuppositions of Israel's faith in which Yahweh is chiefly to be
acknowledged through his mighty salvific works in history. For this reason, the
main points in Pss 105 and 106 are arranged chronologically according to the
mighty acts of God. The intent in Ps 105 is to infuse great awe in those who
utter and hear the Psalm. As a result, they should develop a great confidence in
the midst of uncertainty. The purpose of Ps 106 is to confess that though
Yahweh has acted mightily towards his people out of steadfast love, Israel has
failed to react in kind. Nevertheless, the hope for the future lies with Yahweh's
commitment to act in unending hesed because of his covenant promise and for
the sake of his name.
H. Viviers

I . Introduction
In defending his two modes of religiosity theory, British anthropologist Harvey
Whitehouse makes a passing remark on why certain musical tunes are "catchy."
Humans have a natural sensitivity for a certain tonal variation and therefore
some tunes fall nicely on the ear while others are instantaneously rejected. The
brain, Harvey notes, is wired to "catch" certain tunes, to like certain colors and
to drink in the aromas of certain scents.1 Analogue to the "catchiness" of certain
tunes, the question asked here is why is Ps 147 "catchy," two and half millen-
nia ago and still today? Is there something in our brains that makes the psalm
In what follows insights of the Cognitive Sciences on religion will be utilized
to answer for Ps 147's "catchiness." Cognitive Sciences (e.g. Cognitive Psychol-
ogy, Anthropology) focus on human cognition, the way our brain-minds work so
as to construct our reality. They are empirical sciences that through thorough
experimentation test their theories and findings, which is not always true of
theology.2 The revisiting of assumptions is part and parcel of good science but
the assumption (claim) of "god" within theology is often left untouched. This
can be partly explained by the naturalness of humans' conceptualization "that
god exists" and therefore the claim that there is no need for verification. "Who
'god' really is" or, better phrased, "how 'god' really exists," however, needs to
be addressed anew, especially from a cognitive point of view.
Although the present study focuses on Ps 147, the point of the exercise is not
so much to explain this psalm as such, but rather to show the psalm as a good
example of "catchy" god-talk that captures the ear. Admittedly, any other psalm
or rumination on "god" in other religious texts could have worked just as well.

1. Music is probably an evolutionary by-product of language. See H. Whitehouse, 'Toward a

Comparative Anthropology of Religion," in Ritual and Memory: Toward a Comparative Anthro-
pology of Religion (ed. H. Whitehouse and J. Laidlaw; Cognitive Science of Religion Series; Walnut
Creek: AltaMira, 2004), 190.
2. I. Pyysiainnen, How Religion Works: Towards a New Cognitive Science of Religion (Cogni-
tion and Culture Book Series 1; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 8.
"My Words Are Lovely"

2. Psalm 147: Text and Context

Psalm 147 (BBS)

:n^nn mKj n^p? irrf^x rnar aitD-1:?
:02D' ^Hnfcr -TH? m/P D^T H3ia
OTiasi?4?tfanaia4? na^ Kann
:mjp? niatf D'vO4? D'aDiD4? "1SOD njla
nsop ]*$ man4? rD-a-ii ^rgnx ^i-ra
rW^-S D^^l ^"^5 ^ n'Tjr TTiiflp

:"iiaDa i3'irf?Ki? ^"iQ? nilna rnrr^ ^r
n^n onn rrp^an IBD pr^ pan o^ara Dsp$ nopon
runjp1: n^x aii? *$? ptan1? nana*? ]nia
:rr^-]s tfsn pi^a'K1? )*an^ o^on nnnp x4?
tttorHp n^n^an-nx VNTTIK nin^ nyh

:]is^ ^^n^K ^n nin^nx D^n1; <tna
qanpa 1^9 -!ji5 -![rj^ sn"12 pirn?
qr"ato: n^on a4?? ni1?^ fi^aa-ron
rna'i p-r n-jnair J-IK innpK n^n
nis^ ISKD iiar> iai:s :^ pn
nar: -p m-jp <i3ai? o^sa in-ip fp'pjpp
to^a^^r inn a": ooa!1] iia^ n1^^
Ari^ roatfai rpp apr4? na^r T-aa
iwr-4^ o-ps^ai "ia-^D4? p ntor x4?

P^a/w 7^/7 fA5^

1. Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is
1. The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3. He heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds.
4. He determines the number of the stars, he gives to all of them their names.
5. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
6. The Lord lifts up the downtrodden, he casts the wicked to the ground.
7. Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God upon the lyre!
8. He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow upon
the hills.
VIVIERS Why is Psalm 147 Still "Catchy "? 173

9. He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.
10. His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner,
11. but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast
12. Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
13. For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.
14. He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.
15. He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.
16. He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.
17. He hurls down hail like crumbswho can stand before his cold?
18. He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
19. He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
20. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances.
Praise the Lord!

The poet of Ps 147 is like most other poets of the Psalter, a competent rhetori-
cian. He (most probably) makes abundant use of the ancient Hebrew poetical
conventions to create this appealing, unified poem. A good communicator, how-
ever, needs more than just nice words and techniques to succeed, and therefore
there must also be a receptive audience, a context within which his words would
make good sense, just as seed needs fertile ground to germinate. The "world of
words" pictured by the psalm also catches the modern ear as it, typical of good
poetry, transcends time and place.
Psalm 147 forms a coherent whole which is confirmed by a neat structure (cf.
the line divisions of Hebrew text above).3 It is encapsulated by the beginning
and conclusive PP'^n.4 This inclusio extends further by the references to Israel
in w. 2 and 19 and a number of binding threads throughout the psalm.5 The
psalm consists of three stanzas (I: w. 1-6; II: w. 7-11; III: w. 12-20) that
display a remarkable similarity of structure: each opens with a summons to
praise God (w. 1 [summons implied], 7, 12) followed by interchangeable
strophes about God's acts in history and nature (I: w. 2-3,4-5, 6; II: w. 8-9,
10-11; III: w. 13-14, 15-18, 19-20) and each stanza ending with antithetical
statements (w. 6, 10-11, 19-20).6 The pattern in terms of contents emerging
from the strophes underline the similarity of the strophes and add to its unity and
the inclusio mentioned above, the latter encompassing the first and last stanza:
Ihistory (w. 2-3) , nature (w. 45), history (w. 6); IInature (w. 89),
history (w. 10-11); IIIhistory (w. 13-14), nature (w. 15-18), history
(w. 19-20). This conspicuous balance extends also to a micro-level where the

3. The LXX and the Vulgate divide it in two separate psalms (w. 1-11, 12-20).
4. Psalm 147 is part of the group of hallelu-yah psalmsPss 146-150who all have this
inclusio of "praise." Whereas Pss 1 and 2 set the opening tone for what follows in the Psalter, the
hallelu-yah psalms end it on a climactic note. See, for example, R. Davidson, The Vitality of Wor-
ship: A Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 469. Ps 147 links
closely with 146.
5. See especially L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC 21; Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983), 307-8.
6. Allen, Psalms, 308; J. J. Burden, Psalms 120-150 (Skrifuitleg vir Bybelstudent en Gemeente;
Kaapstad: NG Kerk-Uitgewers, 1991), 176-77.
174 "My Words Are Lovely"

poet makes abundant use of stichoi (= verses) consisting of parallelisms and

chiasms (cf. below), all conveying the idea of balance and order. Add to this the
abundant use of participles and imperfecta, and it is clear that form and content
complement each other: "using participles it makes the deed a typical activity, a
feature of the character of the Lord..."7 God's recurrent acts in history and
nature enhance trust and confidence in life.
A closer, be it even a brief reading of the different stanzas, underlines the
poet's skills. Following the framing rr'^n, an emphatic particle, ^5, intro-
duces the first stanza by way of a synonymous parallelism, on how fitting it is to
praise God (v. 1). Verse 2, Yahweh's rebuilding of Jerusalem and the gathering
of the exiles,8 forms a chiasm which places Yahweh in the centre of the verse.
This emphasizes his remarkable saving act, similar to the first exodus. A subtle
word- and soundplay might also be present between D^EftT njia and ^ijnftF ^D"?;
enhancing Yahweh's restoration of place and people. The participle KShn (v. 3)
links with the preceding verse's introducing participle njia (and H3iQ, v. 4
following) to create something of an anaphoric soundplay. Here the beginning
of verses sound alike, whereas a poet can also end verses alike (epiphor). A pre-
dominant part of any poet's skill is the subtle manipulating of ear-catching
sounds to enhance the contents of a saying, markedly so in oral cultures.9 The
healing of the broken-hearted and wounded extends Yahweh's saving act of
Israel's restoration. Whereas this line was presented as a synonymous parallel-
ism, the next two lines, which introduce a new strophe (w. 45), are both
chiasms and chiastic in combination, to highlight contrasting poles (God against
gods [= stars]) and God's control of nature.10 Only a God who cannot be "num-
bered" (has fathomless insight, v. 5) is able to number (insight) and name, that
is, to control the stars. The notion of contrast is taken further with the following
antithetic parallelism (v. 6) to accentuate the "in-group" (the downtrodden)
against the "out-group" (the wicked).11 The god of the "in-group" usually plays
the ultimate role in determining their social boundaries, therefore the psalm
constantly refers to "our God." Stanza I says clearly that God is in charge of
history (great and small) and of the natural realm.
Stanza II is introduced similarly as I, by way of a synonymous parallelism,
with a strong summons to thank and praise God (again also "our God"). Why?
Because he controls nature (w. 8-9) and in the historical arena (again) deter-
mines the ethos of the "in-group" (w. 10-11). Although the strophe about provi-
dence in nature (w. 8-9) consists of synonymous parallelism, an interesting
chiastic structure surfaces through merism: the heavens covered with clouds
above match the young ravens who eventually will fly there, to form the outer

7. J. L. Mays, Psalms (IBC; Louisville: John Knox, 1994), 443.

8. This verse leads most commentators to date mis psalm as post-exilic, most probably after
Nehemiah's rebuilding of me city walls (after 445 B.C.E.; cf. v. 13).
9. Only a mother-tongue speaker of Classical Hebrew would be able to appreciate fully the
ancient poetical soundplay that will always be partly beyond the reach of modern scholars.
10. See also M. Dahood, Psalms III, 101-150 (AB 17A; New York: Doubleday, 1970), 345.
11. The interchanging of the different kinds of parallelism prevents monotony.
VIVIERS Why is Psalm 147 Still "Catchy"? 175

poles of the chiasm. The inner poles consist of the earth/hills below for which
rain and grass are prepared, which matches the large animals that utilize the
earth's produce.12 The antithetical conclusive strophe of this stanza forms a
chiasm (w. 10-11 in combination) to emphasize the contrasting lifestyles of
those who fully trust in Yahweh and those who rely solely on their own capa-
bilities, nyh links the two verses and juxtaposes these two categories of people.
Viewing the lines of this stanza individually, the poet again breaks a possible
monotony of only synonymous parallelism (w. 7-10) by a chiasm (v. 11),
thereby highlighting the contents (absolute trust) of the latter.
Leaving the imperatives to praise aside, the introduction of the last stanza,
v. 12, forms a chiasm. Personified Jerusalem/Zion encloses and centers on the
deity mrr, ^Tfrg.13 The synthetic parallelism in v. 13 (strengthening the gates
and blessing within) shows both assonance (v. 13a) and conspicuous alliteration
(v. 13b; "b," "k" and "r" sounds).14 The second line of this strophe, v. 14, alter-
nates again with a chiasm combining both God's providence in history and
nature: peace within the borders resulting in the enjoyment of the "fattest of
wheat."15 The nature strophe, w. 15-18 is framed by an inclusio, i"QV6 God's
word becomes a kind of hypostatization of himself, representing his power in
nature and his will in history (w. 19-20). His command and control of snow,
frost, hail, and cold (w. 16-17) emphasize through chiasm his being in charge
of the order and rhythm of nature. Summer follows winter, and this is exem-
plified by the synonymous parallelism in v. 13, the melting of the ice through his
"breath." Soundplay undergirds this picture: alliteration (1JS"; "IDKS liSD,
v. 16); assonance (irnp, irnjP, v. 17linking also with "nin and iim, v. 18);17
onomatopoeia (which might be present in DOQ^I and *br D^D, v. 18). Commen-
tators point out the climactic movement from the previous serene nature
depictions to this rather violent exhibition of power through natural forces.18
Heavy snowfalls and icy weather as described here are comparatively rare
phenomena in Palestine. The final strophe, w. 19-20, redirects "his word" also
to history. The same powerful word with which God reveals himself in nature,
becomes the representation of his will in his laws and ordinances. His torah is
their guide through all of history.19 Its power can be "heard" through assonance:
"Hin, ^ji?n, VtpStfQ1) (v-19).20 And a warning is unmistakably implied through this

12. See Burden, Psalms, 179. Note also the assonance of T!*n Dnn ITDSan, pointed out by
Dahood, Psalms, 346.
13. Dahood, Psalms, 347, following D. N. Friedman.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid., 348.
16. Allen, Psalms, 310.
17. Dahood,Psalms, 349; A. A. Anderson, TheBookof Psalms. Vol2,Psalms 73-150(NCB;
London: Oliphants, 1972), 947.
18. This interpretation goes against Allen, Psalms, 310, who regards this scene as playful. See
also E. S. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, and Lamentations (FOTL 15; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
2001), 445.
19. Gerstenberger, Psalms, 445.
20. Dahood, Psalms, 349.
176 "My Words Are Lovely"

link with naturenot keeping his word will be disastrous (cf. Jer 23:29). As
Yahweh is super-powerful to shake up nature, so can he shake up his people for
not obeying his desires contained in his moral code. This also distinguishes them
from the "out-group," the non-Israelites, and as before the poet also concludes
this final stanza with an antithetic parallelism (cf. v. 6).
The post-exilic (post-Nehemiah) Ps 147 can be described as a communal
hymn (cf. the repetition of "our God") of praise and thanksgiving. The three
introductory summons of each stanza to praise and give thanks (see also the
reference to "the harp" in v. 7) point to its liturgical use in the cult. Although
some regard the Feast of the Tabernacles as its proper setting because of its
saving contents, any other festive occasion in the restored temple or outside
could just as well explain its use. What could perhaps be more specific is the
psalm's mnemonic and delightful response to the return from the Babylonian
exile and the celebration of God as the super-powerful creator. The return would
have made a tremendous impact on the exiles, a reviving from death that was
similar to the first exodus from Egypt. The new appreciation of God as sole
creator makes good sense against the exposure to many Babylonian creation
myths (cf., e.g., v. 4). The contents of the psalm, experiencing God both as
savior and creator, activates the memory of the assembled congregation of well-
known (inter-) texts such as Deutero-Isaiah. God's providence in nature
immediately recalls other similar creation motifs in Ps 33, Ps 104 and Job 38:1-
42:6 and markedly also wisdom ideas about order.21 Reverberating with all these
familiar and favorite intertexts would have made this psalm very "catchy" for its
first recipients. This context of receptive ears and hearts would have made this
text "work" very well.
But, as has been noted already, a receptive modern audience, even though far
removed in culture and time, experiences it similarly as "catchy," as it soothes
with its universal message of trust in a God who keeps history and nature intact.
Why would this be so, that a pre-modern text still appeals to a post-modern
audience? I believe that there is a deeper reason that humans share that makes
god-talk of the kind we have just met, still fall in fertile ground, and that is
because of the brain-minds that we have. Humans have a mental capacity, an
innate propensity to make sense of the divine, even in a modern secular world.
To the amazement of many non-believers who obviously have good reasons for
what they hold to be true, god does not go away.
In what follows a bit of a lengthy detour of this innateness is necessary before
Ps 147 will be briefly revisited with these insights.

l.HumanPropensityforthe "Divine"
3.1. A Cognitive Psychological View of "God"
Belief in god does not require a special brain-mind, but comes intuitively to all
people who have healthy, undamaged brains. It is rather unnatural not to

21. According to Burden, Psalms, 181.

ViviERS Why is Psalm 147 Still "Catchy"? Ill

conceptualize the "divine" and it demands a deliberate, (scientific) reflective

overriding of the innate faculties of the mind. The same mental tools to make
meaning of, for instance, a chair that you see are at play when creating "god,"
who is normally invisible. There is "no specific inclination in the
special religion center in the brain..." to be able to conceptualize "god."22
Justin Barrett aptly describes the mind as a workshop equipped with a host of
mental tools to make sense of our reality.23 These tools have a long evolutionary
history, and this explains why humans are so well adapted to our earthly environ-
ment: "The human mind has co-evolved with the world it reflects, and cognitive
domains should be understood as the outcome of this interaction."24 Barrett
identifies three classes of tools: Categorizers (Object detection device, Agency
detection device, Face detector, Animal identifier, Artifact identifier) receive
information through the senses and identify what is perceived;25 Describers
(Object describer, Living-thing describer, Theory of mind, Artifact describer)
fill in the detail of the perceived things; Facilitators (Social exchange regulator,
Social status monitor, Intuitive morality) coordinate social activity in specific
contexts. Most of these tools work unconsciously or unreflectively but inform
our reflective mental operations. Pascal Boyer uses the notion of mental tem-
plates which become filled in the moment our folk ontological intuitions are
triggered. Even small children are able to complete these templates with amaz-
ingly little input. Under the Describers class, we seem to have only a limited
number of ontological categories, namely for animals, persons, tools (also arti-
facts, e.g., statues), natural objects (e.g. rivers, mountains), and plants. A small
child intuitively knows that all crocodiles eat, reproduce, and have the same
innards. Persons, animals, and artifacts are the most likely candidates to become
"gods" as confirmed cross-culturally by anthropological evidence.26
The more mental tools that are activated, the more convincing the belief in
the "existence" of something (e.g. a "god") becomes. If only one or two come
into action then something can be easily discarded as a misapprehension, a fault

22. P. Boyer, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (New York:
Basic, 2001), 329.
23. J. L Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe in God? (Cognitive Science of Religion Series;
Walnut Creek: AltaMira, 2004), 3-6. Cognitive scientists, underwriting the modular theory of the
mind distinguish between computational modularity, that is, domain-specific computational mech-
anisms (4tSwiss-army knife model"), and intentional modularity, that is, domain-specific bodies of
specialized knowledge processed centrally by general-purpose, non-modular cognitive mechanisms
("Chomskian model"); see P. Carruthers and A. Chamberlain, eds., Evolution and the Human Mind:
Modularity, Language andMeta-Cognition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 89.
24. Pyysiainnen, How Religion Works, 215.
25. Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe?, 3-6. When it comes to the Face detector, Boyer,
Religion Explained, 219, points out that we evolved, for survival reasons, to recognize faces (and
voices) instantly. The more difficult task of remembering names involves deliberate, reflective
efforts, a learning process over time.
26. Boyer, Religion Explained, 40,78,107; see also the same author's contribution, "Evolution
of the Modern Mind and the Origins of Culture: Religious Concepts as a limiting Case," in
Carruthers and Chamberlain, eds., Evolution and the Human Mind. 103.
178 "My Words Are Lovely "

of the imagination.27 Two tools are conspicuously instrumental for the con-
ceptualization of "god," namely, the categorizer HADD (hyperactive agency
detection device) and the describe! ToM (theory of mind). The HADD is
qualified as hyperactive because it is extremely sensitive to detect intentional
agency, which guaranteed the survival of early humans. Observing an early
hominid chasing a female or a predator who pounces on its prey shows clear
intentionality and the details (desire for sex or food) hereof are filled in by
ToM.28 But also a rock that moves by itself or a statue that sheds tears, which
obviously breach our ontological intuitions, need explanation. Even more
important than intentional agency when speaking about god(s) is the notion of
being counter-intuitive. To qualify as a "god" (person, animal, artifact), some-
thing needs to be minimally counterintuitive, that is, supernatural but to a
limited extent. "[A] dog that was made in the factory, gives birth to chickens,
can talk to people, is invisible, can read minds, can walk through walls, and can
never die...," is maximally counterintuitive but rather absurd.29 Something has
to be close to reality to make sense of it, yet simultaneously it has to have the
ability to exceed the normal in order to have meaning as a "god." It has to be
attention-grabbing and worthwhile remembering, but it markedly also has to
have inferential potential about strategic knowledge for what matters to humans,
their survival especially in situations of urgency.30 These few canvas strokes
characterize most "gods" in all religions. The "factory dog" is attention-grab-
bing but has no inferential potential to guarantee your well-being. Yahweh,
however, in Ps 147 is superhuman, superpowerful, superknowing, a deity who
controls nature and history for the benefit of IsraelYahweh therefore qualifies
as "god."
The ToM, which supplies detail for what the HADD detects, is our inference
system; it is fascinated with what is going on in other people's minds, their
desires, fears, the beliefs they hold (whether false or true).31 As humans, we do
mind-reading all the time to obtain strategic knowledge to function and adapt
properly. We not only read the minds of fellow humans to obtain such knowl-
edge, but we ascribe such knowledge in the ultimate sense, to the "gods" as well,
and that is why they are held in such esteem by humans. We ascribe "mind" to
animals as well as we speak of the desires and fears of our pets, even though
they do not have this inferential capacity. It seems that our closest relatives
among the big apes, chimpanzees, are on the brink of having a ToM as well.
Among the monkeys, with smaller brain capacity, this is absent. Robin Dunbar
notes the interesting example of a male vervet monkey scaring off a rival male

27. Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe?', 15.

28. Ibid., 31-44.
29. Ibid., 23.
30. Ibid., 39-40,113.
31. Ibid., 43, indicates that autistic children do not have the capability of "mind-reading" others.
It is also interesting that the ToMs of women are more strongly developed than those of men and
that with age a person's ToM becomes more sophisticated. Boyer, Religion Explained, 123, refers to
this tool as our intuitive folk psychology.
VlVffiRS Why is Psalm 14 7 Still "Catchy "? 179

who wants to take over his troop. As the rival appeared in the open field the
troop leader, while hiding away in the tree canopy, gave a leopard alarm call and
deterred the rival. This worked so well that the leader after a while himself
confidently ventured into the open, still sounding the alarm calls, not able to
realize that he was now giving the game awaythat he was "lying" to the rival.
A monkey cannot "read the mind" of another monkey.32 Developmental psy-
chology has shown that small children (three-year olds) also cannot imagine
others to have false beliefs. When shown a candy box filled with stones and then
closed, and asked what an adult would think is in the box when entering the
room, they unanimously answer "stones." Five-year olds, however, are able to
entertain that other people can hold false beliefs and answer that the entering
adult will certainly be mislead by the outer appearance of the box that it contains
candy. Even though we treat "gods" as superhuman agents, we utilize our intui-
tive psychology to ascribe to them the same human desires we possessthey
more than often desire, become angry, become jealous, and so on, as we do. But
"gods" exceed anthropomorphism through their counterintuitivity as being
superknowing, superperceiving, immortal, superpowerful, and as creators.33
Our social interaction mental tools (facilitators) confirm the sociality of our
humanness, even though we as Westerners believe we are individualists. Where
the HADD and ToM (remember its obsession with what others think) have
identified social partners, our social exchange regulator (who owes what to
whom), social status monitor (who has the highest status to form alliances with),
and intuitive morality (gut feeling about right and wrong) give body to our
moral reasoning in group contexts. "Gods," who have elevated status and super-
knowledge of strategic information especially in the moral sphere, are believed
to control a society's fate in terms of fortunes and misfortunes and are held as
allies or feared as enemies. This belief of being perfect moral arbitrators in turn
enhances belief in their "existence."34 This is, however, an "ideal" vision of
god(s) and they often disappoint for not acting as expected (see, e.g., the Psalms
of Lament, the book of Job).
Religious ceremonies and rituals strengthen belief in the "existence" of
superhuman beings. They are costly (e.g. tithes, enduring long sermons, initia-
tions, etc.), so that people cannot but ask themselves why they continue doing

32. R. Dunbar, "On the Origin of the Human Mind," in Carruthers and Chamberlain, eds.,
Evolution and the Human Mind, 238-53 (244). Although animals seem to have reflective thought,
they in fact only react or respond according to their highly developed instincts.
33. Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe?, 77-78, questions the anthropomorphic hypothesis
(projecting humanness onto "god") by providing experimental proof that even small children are
able to conceptualize "god" in supernatural (i.e. counterintuitive) terms, independent of mere
humanness. In other words, "god" need not be a human first before becoming a "god" but can be
superhuman right from the start. A special case of counterintuitivity is the dead, who become
ancestor spirits (see pp. 56-57). These "ghosts" are widely spread and very similar cross-culturally.
How does a dead body "become a spirit"? Our living-thing describer accepts biological death but our
ToM keeps on convincing us that a dead person is still psychologically alive. This also explains the
utterly confused emotions one experiences when a loved one dies.
34. Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe?, 46, 51, 90.
180 "My Words Are Lovely "

them, and solve this cognitive dissonance by convincing themselves this is what
"god" wants.35 Add to this that rituals signal messages of solidarity among the
group participants (primarily), and belief is strengthened because everybody else
does it. Often people do not have rational reasons for holding rituals very dear
but immediately feel a loss if they do not happen. Religion scientists distinguish
between two modes of religiosity, namely an imagistic and doctrinal mode, each
with its own emotional and memorable experiences. The contents of the first is
stored in our episodic memory (also referred to as "flashbulb" memory), is very
emotional, happens perhaps only once in a lifetime, is very personal and small
scale, not centralized, and does not spread widely (e.g. male circumcision in an
African tribe). The doctrinal mode content is stored in our semantic memory
through repetition, is sober, inclusive, has a large scale spread, and is centralized
(e.g. mass in the Roman Catholic Church). The doctrinal mode is prone to the
tedious effect but is not necessarily without deep emotion.36 Emotional experi-
ences that accompany religious rituals "may make the god's presence felt in
such a way that the hypersensitive agency detection device (HADD) screams
that the god is acting."37
All normal humans have these tools, but why did we acquire them in the first
place, what triggered the evolving of these capacities? For which original
purposes did they become adaptations?

3.2. Pre-historic Origins of Religion

Religion does not seem always to have been around with our early human
ancestors. The hominids that preceded Homo Sapiens developed domain specific
intelligences to adapt to their environments. As hunter-gatherers, they fared well
and did not need a more complex brain-mind. For hundreds of thousands of
years the most sophisticated tool that they used was a stone axe, of which the
rounded bulk was clasped by the hand leaving the (double-sided) sharp, tapered
end free for cutting up meat or digging for plant roots. To create such a tool by
the process of "knapping," which is the symmetric chipping away offtakes, how-
ever, required a sophisticated brain. Our close relatives, the big apes, although
also utilizing tools, do not have the brain capacity to manufacture a tool by way
of "knapping," for instance.38 A dramatic change occurred between 60000 and
30000 B.C.E., an event described as the "cultural/symbolic revolution." The
archaeological record clearly shows that tools became more abundant and more

35. Ibid., 62-^3.

36. See especially H. Whitehouse's "Modes of Religiosity: Towards a Cognitive Explanation of
the Sociopolitical Dynamics of Religion," Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 14 (2002):
293-315, and "Toward a Comparative Anthropology of Religion," 187-206. Criticism against the
doctrinal mode as being emotionally sparse comes from A. L. Clarke, "Testing the Two Modes of
Religiosity: Christian Practice in the Later Middle Ages," in Theorizing Religions Past:
Archaeology, History and Cognition (ed. H. Whitehouse and L. H. Martin; Cognitive Science of
Religion Series; Walnut Creek: AltaMira, 2004), 125-42.
37. Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe?, 69.
38. T. Wynn, "Symmetry and the Evolution of the Modular Linguistic Mind," in Carruthers and
Chamberlain, eds., Evolution and the Human Mind, 113-39.
VlVlERS Why is Psalm 147 Still "Catchy "? 181

complex, funeral rituals became more comprehensive, ochre paint came into use
for aesthetic reasons, and drawings and paintings were made on cave walls.
Humans realized that lived experiences, could be recalled later in their imagi-
nation, they could see them "in their thoughts." Humans began to think in
"decoupled mode," they started to think in an abstract way and fantasize, and the
fictitious or symbolic world was born. And part of the latter was the notion of
religion! Although modern humans had a large brain long before this time, it
was not the size of the brain but the cross-domain thinking between the different
existing intelligences that stimulated this development. Apart from this capacity
for abstract thought, ideas could also be stored in material culture and com-
municated far more effectively than by personal contact. The ability to store
ideas extended the mind beyond the limits of the brain.39
So, religion did not fall from the air but appears to have sprung from the mind
fairly recently. It originated as a very mundane, practical thing. In fact, Pascal
Boyer describes it as parasitic on other human mental capacities that were there
already; it was on these capacities that religious notions started to live and
thrive. Humans developed hands for the efficient grasping of objects, but soon
discovered that the knuckles that allowed for intricate hand movement could
also be used as a weapon with which to strike an opponent. Teeth developed for
consuming food soon also became a sexual signal of health and attractiveness.
The same with religionit developed as a by-product of an adaptive capacity
that allowed humans to survive.40
Why did our early human ancestors develop a HADD? In a predator-prey
situation it makes good sense to have a well-developed capacity to detect
agency. This ability gave humans the edge over other species, as they were able
to "read" the intentionality of prey species and to hunt them effectively. But in
order to protect themselves from being eaten humans had to be very alert for
detecting predators. Humans are adept at the detection of the predators them-
selves, but are also good at detecting their "traces," for example, detecting the
stirring leaves of the tree that hides the leopard. It is obviously better for
survival to over-detect and be mistaken than under-detect and become prey.41
But certain "traces" that can indicate and stimulate belief in supernatural agency
are also present. It is natural for humans to think up a watching ancestor in the
sky or a "creator god" leaving his/her creational traces all around us.42 The

39. S. Mithen, "Mind, Brain and Material Culture: An Archaeological Perspective," in

Carruthers and Chamberlain, eds., Evolution and the Human Mind, 207-17 (211,216). See also
Boyer, Religion Explained, 131.
40. See P. Boyer, "Evolution of the Modern Mind and the Origins of Culture: Religious
Concepts as a Limiting Case," in Carruthers and Chamberlain, eds., Evolution and the Human Mind,
93-112, and also his Religion Explained, 311. S. Atran, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Land-
scape of Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 44, encapsulates some of the by-
products of evolution as follows: "Thus, insect wings and bird feathers appear to have been initially
selected for thermal regulation and only later co-opted for flight in the subsequent evolutionary
history of insects and birds."
41. Boyer, Religion Explained, 145-46.
42. Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe?, 36-39.
182 "My Words Are Lovely "

"eyes" that adapted primarily for spotting predators and prey soon "saw" more
than meets the eye, and this spin-off intuitively gave birth to the belief in
supernatural gods and ancestors.
The HADD's close ally, the ToM, the detail-filler, makes just as much sense
in a survival situation. Hominids did not only kill off prey but also each other. It
was therefore imperative that hominids acquired detail about another's mental
state, whether she or he desires to be friend or foe. And this explains the human
craving for information, for doing mind-reading all the time, and the sharing of
information in millions of ways. One mind cannot acquire enough strategic
information on its own. Therefore humans are by nature cooperators, they form
coalitions all the time to increase their chances of survival. Gossip is therefore
not as bad as we might thinkit is intuitively part and parcel of human nature.
Gossip is information-gathering so as to position oneself strategically with or
against others.43 Within this context, "gods" are extremely popular because they
know it all.
And morality gave birth to religion, not the other way round. To be able to
survive, early humans had to cooperate socially and trust each other. Our inbuilt
moral tools were present before religion.44 Intuitive morality and the social
exchange regulator would have guided individuals to share their pickings or
spoils with the common group. If this was not done, an individual could not be
trusted and would have jeopardized his or her survival chances. As foraging
groups grew bigger and bigger, however, it became more and more difficult to
detect cheaters and freeriders.45 What better reason was there for developing a
"god" as an all-seeing agent and moral arbitrator, a being who monitored and
controlled the unseen behavior of the large group? If a "god" performed this
important role, the group could continue with the important business of hunting,
foraging and mating. And if lightning struck someone out of the blue, then it
would be immediately deduced that this moral arbitrator-god was at work,
meting out punishment for an immoral deed (e.g. stealing, illicit sex).
And this brings us back to rituals and one of their important functionsthe
opportunity of social messaging. By participating in the ritual, often at cost, an
individual could signal to fellow members of the group and the ever-watching
gods/ancestors that he or she is trustworthy.46 As Pascal Boyer explains, when

43. Boyer, Religion Explained, 120-24.

44. Ibid., 191,202, verbalizes this succinctly, when he says,".. .religious concepts are parasitic
upon moral intuitions... The [god] concepts are parasitic in the sense that their successful
transmission is greatly enhanced by mental capacities that would be there, gods or no gods."
45. Dunbar, "On the Origin of the Human Mind," argues a convincing case that in human evo-
lution meaningful alliances in larger groups required a larger brain (small-brain Australopithecines:
group size of 60; large brain Neanderthals and modern humans: group size 150-160).
46. The origin of rituals can be traced back to early humans' innate fear of contamination. They
soon realized the danger of pathogens and therefore evolved contagion systems which when
triggered, aroused strong emotions of fear and disgust and prevented them from touching dirt,
excrement, putrefying carcasses, and so on. So many ritual scripts "buy into" this natural fear with
emphasis on cleansing and purifying (e.g. Christian baptism). See Boyer, Religion Explained, 214-
15,240-41, 245. See also Whitehouse, "Toward a Comparative Anthropology of Religion," 191.
VlVlERS Why is Psalm 147 Still "Catchy "? 183

an individual intends to bring back all the berries that she or he has gathered,
"this disposition must be obvious to others..."47 Bonds are newly forged and
strengthened and further cooperation ensured.

3.3. Psalm 147 Revisited

Is Ps 147's "catchiness" due to it perhaps being sui generis, especially its
divinity, as is often claimed within believing communities (Jewish or Christian)?
Or does it catch the ear because it simply complies with what Cognitive Science
has taught us about our conceptualization of "god"? How does it reverberate
with our intuition about superhuman agency?
The psalm's balanced structure at macro- and micro-level certainly appeals to
our brain's appreciation of symmetry. Our brain orders and categorizes all the
time. A well-ordered design is therefore easily detected, easily grasped and also
remembered well. Add to this the "right" contents, and it is understandable that
the psalm "works" well, even today in a modern context.
The "god" of Ps 147 is acknowledged as an intentional counterintuitive agent
throughout. "Our God" reveals first of all humans' idiosyncratic conceptualiza-
tion of a divinity which results in an ethnocentric notion about god (e.g. w. 19-
20), owing to humans' urge to communicate and share ideas and knowledge.
The summons to praise god (w. 1,6, 12) and to adhere to his moral code (w.
10-11,19-20), indicate the activation of the social status monitor, to ally with
those high in status in society. God has absolute status and knows it all. His
control of history and nature proves him to be the source of strategic knowledge.
God is not visible in the Old Testament, yet his counterintuitive "traces" can
be clearly detected (via belief, obviously) in history and nature. These two
spheres highlighted here in Ps 147, "matter" most to humans.48 God's acts in
history picture him as rather anthropomorphic. A wise and competent king and
government could also rebuild and fortify Jerusalem (w. 2,13), be caring (v. 3),
provide for justice (v. 6), and ensure peace and prosperity (w. 13-14). How-
ever, even here God starts to exceed human capability by restoring post-exilic
Judah as sole actor. His superhuman agency comes markedly to the fore in the
way he controls nature. Humans cannot imitate him in this regard.
God is superpowerful in the way he controls the stars (w. 4-5) who as other
godly powers could cause damage, clouds and rain to provide food (w. 8-9) and
severe weather phenomena like snow, frost, and hail to determine winter and
summer (w. 15-18). Verse 5 explicitly states his great power and in w. 15-18
he accomplishes the change of the seasons by simply speaking a word (cf. also
Gen 1)! But he is also superknowing. His insight has no ends (v. 5) and he
knows exactly when and how to provide for the earth and its inhabitants. This
peeping into God's mind also acknowledges that he has a ToM similar to that of
humans, but in the ultimate sense. When it comes to nature, even small children

47. Boyer, Religion Explained, 184.

48. Ibid., 137.
184 "My Words Are Lovely "

act as "intuitive theists"; they quite clearly "understand God as distinct from
humans in creative ability."49
And God's counterintuitivity also comes to the fore in him being perfectly
good.50 Our intuitive morality, the gut feeling to do what is right, is transposed
onto god in the ultimate sense. His deeds again reflect his ToM, of desiring good
over bad. He heals and cares for the wounded (v. 3), defends the humble (v. 6),
protects his own (w. 13-14), and he cares for even the lesser ones in nature, the
hungry young ravens (v. 9). A human whose morality is visibly shown can be
trusted, the more so God who exceeds humans by far. To help humans to live up
to him, he provides his torah (w. 19-20). The latter exposes his ToM (his
"will") as the clearest of all. His "word," as indicated above, has become a
hypostatization of himself.
The God of Ps 147 matches the conceptualization of counterintuitive agency
cross-culturally and is therefore not unique. Yahweh as sole god and represented,
inter alia, by his "word" points to Israelite cultural input and idiosyncrasy.
"Theological correctness" becomes embedded in a society's ideological world
and inscripted in its literary products.51 God's laws and decrees (w. 19-20) not
only inform them of his "will" but also create their identity. Rituals provide apt
opportunities for this. God as experienced through his "word" in the cult and
elsewhere, as benevolent and fearful, becomes a powerful mechanism for con-
trolling society. Psalm 147 interestingly reflects both ritual modes of religiosity
that Harvey Whitehouse has identified.52 The one-off return "to life" out of exile
and the overwhelming experience of God in nature (cf. again w. 15-18 as a rare
occurrence) points to the deeply emotional imagistic mode, where the recall of
these events appears as "flashbulb" (crisp and clear) memory.53 The emphasis on
the keeping of God's ordinances points to the doctrinal mode where the repeated
meditation and reflection hereof leads to internalization, and also the possibility
of "tediousness."

4. Concluding Remarks: How Does God "Really " Exist?

It has hopefully become clear that making good sense of Ps 147 comes as no
great surprise. The "catchiness" of the psalm can be satisfactorily explained
through its effective and creative language use, its utilization of a context of an
initial, receptive audience, and a universal message of consolation, of God
keeping watch over history and nature. It is especially the kind of brain-minds
that we have, ones that developed through evolutionary adaptation, that makes
us intuitively receptive for supernatural agency. Even though religion developed

49. Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe?, 84-85.

50. Although he is confident that it will be proved, Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe?, 86,
admits that "God as perfectly good" is not substantiated that strongly by experiments with children.
51. Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe?, 11.
52. Whitehouse, "Modes of Religiosity."
53. Verses 15-18 confirm Rudolf Otto's famous verbalization of humans' experience of "god,"
mysterium tremendum etfascinansa mystery mat evokes fear and awe!
VIVIERS Why is Psalm 147 Still "Catchy "? 185

as a by-product of natural adaptations, it has become part and parcel of the ways
our minds are "wired." Belief in god(s) comes naturally. Human minds the
world over work in similar ways, and therefore their god concepts appear alike.
The depiction of god in Ps 147 is typical Israelite but not that unique when
compared with the deities of other religions. But what if god exists only in our
minds, and not objectively (mind-independently), as "bare fact"? Psalm 147's
thrust would then immediately change to the celebration of panentheistic joy
(the "good" everywhere) and not theistic grace. Can we always trust our intui-
tions, or do we have to reflect on and rectify them?
Justin Barrett, after spending most of his book to explain how natural it is to
believe, interestingly gives some advice on how to be a good atheist! He does
not choose sides, and so probably admits to the consensus that the existence of
god(s) is neither verifiable nor falsifiable. Belief comes intuitively, instantly and
unreflectively. Not to believe requires a lot of reflective effort, because it does
not come naturally and happens slowly. One has to override or short-circuit the
HADD and ToM mental tools; one has to prefer not to fill in these mental
templates when they intuitively detect superhuman agency. But one also has to
satisfy these tools repeatedly by giving better, alternative explanations. If one
reasons the existence of a creator after sensing the wonderful design of the
cosmos, then one has to come up with an alternative, such as evolution. Or if
"god" is detected behind a medical miracle the onus rests on the non-believer to
supply natural alternatives, namely, explicable medical science. Atheism usually
thrives in urbanized, (post-)industrialized, intellectual/reflective milieus where
science and technology guarantee people's security and explain most of the
enigmas of life.54 A life close to nature, isolated from urban luxuries, enhances
the need for divine providence to survive. Barrett concludes: "there are no
atheists in the pre-industrialized world."55
The only "real" god that we can grasp is the one that we create ourselves, the
one that we conceptualize through our ordinary mental tools, the one that has
been changed, adjusted, and exchanged throughout the ages. An objectivistic,
singular, ontological god existing "out there somewhere" can only be claimed,
and believed or not believed. However, it becomes a problem if this claim is
presented as brute fact and the only "truth." The shared and sedimented idea that
God is an "old bloke in the sky" quickly becomes transparent as nothing more
than a power mechanism to control society, a politically invested figure to
secure the values of the dominant group.56 A good example of such a god is the
"Apartheid"-god who reigned supreme for many years in South Africa, created
by a small minority to promote their "Apartheid" values. With the new political
dispensation in 1994, racism became anathema (at least in theory) and this god
disappeared. Another example is the "patriarchal" god, still alive and well,

54. Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe?, 107-18. Timely also is his warning against
"scientism," namely, that science will and can explain and solve it "all."
55. Ibid., 116.
56. Whitehouse, "Toward a Comparative Anthropology of Religion," mentions this stereotype
of God in passing.
186 "My Words Are Lovely "

promoting men's interests at the expense of women's and other's rights, even
though the Constitution of 1996 emphasizes (all) human rights. As soon as these
handy god-agents, created by their followers, are exposed for their unjust and
selective serving of society, they come to a fall.
Although modern, flunking people understandably become reluctant to accept
superhuman agency blindly, and even push it aside, the good of religion is still
cherished: good morals, sociality, and friendship, experiencing "oneness" with
others and nature, and so on. As long as we have the brains that we currently
have, religion in this wider sense will be around. As we evolve further (if we are
still around to do so), we might perhaps not be in need of this by-product
anymore. For the moment, however, the goodness of life experienced in history
and through life-giving nature, as in Ps 147, still appealsto those who override
their conception of a supernatural agent behind it and those that claim it.

HEBREW BIBLE/ 14:25-33 169 1 Kings

Genesis Deuteronomy 18:41 70
1 112,120, 4:7 26
183 5:6-21 23 2 Kings
1:2 77 5:7 23 13:23 162
1:4-5 67 6:1-3 165
12:1-3 162 6:20-25 160 1 Chronicles
15:1-7 162 9:27 162 16:8-22 163
15:1-6 35, 37, 39 10:14 26 16:34 166
17:1-8 162 13 23 16:35-36 166
26:2-5 162 17:2-7 23
28:13-15 162 26:5-9 160 2 Chronicles
26:5 164 6:6 41
Exodus 29:2-16 161
2:24 162 32:4 109, 120 Nehemiah
4:16 56 9 161, 166,
6:3 162 Joshua 169
6:8 162 24 168 9:6-38 161
7:1 56 24:2-15 161 9:7 164
9:17 169 24:2-13 160 9:12-25 168
14 120 24:2 164
15 9 Job
15:1 79 Judges 4-5 31
15:8 111 5 9,140 11:17 67
20:2-17 23 5:27 140 13:9 31
20:3 23 14:14-17 31
22:20 23 1 Samuel 16:18-21 31
23:13 23 2:10 42 19:13-22 29
23:32-33 23 4:1-11 130 19:23-27 31
32 80 10:1 101 24:16 67
32:1-10 169 12:6-15 161, 168 28:24 115
33:1 162 31:4 115
34:6-9 80 2 Samuel 31:24-25 25
34:10 23 5:8 69 31:26-28 25
7 41 34:21 115
Numbers 23:5 42 38:1-42:6 176
14:21 110 38:5 68
188 "My Words Are Lovely'

Job (cont.) 8:1 105 14:6 26

38:7 100 8:2-4 92,99 15 7
38:41 65 8:2-3 93 16:1 26,27
42:7 31 8:2 91,93,94, 16:4 24
99, 100, 16:10 25
Psalms 102, 103 17 46, 52, 54
1 11,122, 8:3-7 93 17:1 27
134, 173 8:3-6 105 17:6 136
1:1 114 8:3 93, 94, 17:8 52,61
2 52, 173 104 17:12 50-52, 54,
2:12 114 8:4 92, 94, 95 55
3 6, 46, 53, 8:5-6 93 18 6, 46, 53,
54 8:5 91,92,94, 57
3:1 27 99, 103, 18:4-5 25
3:3 26 104 18:32 24
3:4 15 8:6-9 99 18:33 Eng 50, 53, 57
3:7 Eng 52,53 8:6 100, 102 18:34 50, 53, 57
3:8 52,53 8:7-9 92-94, 19 63, 66-68,
4 13, 16, 17 104 72,110,
4:1 136 8:7-8 102 112,119
4:2 27 8:7 92,99- 19:1-2 63
4:2 Heb 136 101 19:1 111
4:3 16 8:8-9 93 19:2-8 67
4:5 16 8:9-14 93 19:2-3 67
4:7 16 8:10 91,93,94, 19:2 63
5:1 27 99, 102, 19:3 72
5:2 27 103 19:4 67
5:12 26 9-10 52 19:5 68
5:22 70 9 27 19:6 68
6 38-40, 9:3 24 19:9-12 68
155 10 46,54 19:9 109
6:1 27 10:1 27 22 24, 29,
6:2 27,29 10:3-4 26 38-40, 46,
6:4 29 10:6 26 52, 54-57,
6:5 25, 139 10:9 50-52, 54 153
6:8 38 10:11 26 22:1 68
6:9 35,36 10:13 26 22:2-3 27,29
7 6, 46, 52, 11 46, 53, 57 22:4 24, 153
54 11:1 26, 50, 52, 22:6 Eng 53, 55, 57
7:1 27 57 22:7 29,51,53,
7:2 26,27 12 38,45 55,57
7:2 Eng 50, 52, 54 12:2 27 22:9 26
7:3 50-52, 54 12:5 26,35 22:12 29
7:18 24 12:8 Eng: 38 22:12 Eng 51,53,55
8 7,39,91, 13:2 27-29 22:12-18 Eng 55
95, 98, 99, 14:1 26 22:12-13 Eng 55
105 14:4 26 22:13 51,53,55
Index of References 189

22:13Eng 50-52, 54, 28:3-4 41 33:1-3 108,110,

55 28:3 29,41 113
22:13-19 55 28:4 41 33:1 110,112,
22:13-14 55 28:5 26 115
22:14 50-52, 54, 28:6-8 41 33:4-5 108-10,
55 28:6 35, 36, 38 113
22:16 29 28:8 26 33:4 109,110,
22:16Eng 50-52, 55 28:9 41 113,115,
22:16-17 29 29 46, 53, 60, 116
22:17 50-52, 55 76-78, 84, 33:5 110
22:18 29 86 33:6-12 116
22: 19-21 Eng 55 29:1-2 77 33:6-11 112
22:20 29 29:3-9 60 33:6-9 108,110,
22:20 Eng 50-52, 55 29:3-4 77 113-15
22:20-22 55 29:3 61,77 33:6-7 112
22:20-21 Eng 56 29:4 61 33:6 110,111
22:21 39, 50-52, 29:5-8 77 33:7 111,116
55 29:5-6 77 33:8 112,113,
22:21 Eng 50-52, 29:5 60,61 115,117
54^56 29:6 50,51,53, 33:9 112-14,
22:21-22 56 60,61 118
22:22 35, 36, 29:7-8 61 33:10-12 108,113-
50-52, 29:8 77 17
54^56 29:9 61,77 33:10-11 114
22:22 Eng 56 29:10 85 33:10 113,115
22:23 56 30:3 25 33:11-12 108
22:24 39 30:9 25, 139 33:11 113-16
22:29 153 31:1-3 27 33:12 114,115
24 7 31:2 26,29 33:13-22 115
25 34 31:3 26, 136 33:13-15 115,117
25:1-2 27 31:5 26 33:13-14 116
25:2 29 31:7 24 33:13 115
25:8 109 31:18 29 33:15 115,116,
25:20 26 31:19 27 118
26:1 27 31:20 26 33:16-19 108,115,
27 27, 46, 53 31:35 70 116
27:1 26 32 46, 53, 59, 33:16-17 108,116,
27:2 52 155 117
27:5 69 32:2 114 33:16 117
27:7 136 32:9 50,51,54, 33:17 116
27:9 28,29 59 33:18-19 108,117
28 38,40,41, 33 7, 107-10, 33:18 117,118
44 112-15, 33:19 117
28:1-2 27 117-20, 33:20-23 108
28:1 29,41 176 33:20-22 117,118
28:2 40,41, 33:1-5 108-10 33:20-21 118
136 33:20 115
190 "My Words Are Lovely"

Psalms (cont) 42 27, 52, 63, 44:9 127, 128

33:21 111,118 64,68, 44:10-16 59
33:22 118 71-74 44:10 128
34 6 42:1 Eng 50,52,57, 44:11 128
35 29, 38, 58 44:11 Eng 50,51,59
44-46, 52, 42:2 50, 57, 58 44:12 50, 51, 59,
54 42:2 Eng 58 128
35:1-6 44 42:2-^ 70 44:13-14 128
35:2-3 44 42:3 58 44:13 128
35:3 35, 36, 44 42:3 Eng 58 44:14 128
35:7 29 42:4 26,58 44:15-26 126
35:11 29 42:5 70 44:16 128
35:12-14 29 42:6 30,68 44:17-22 25
35:12 27 42:7-12 70 44:17-19 130
35:15-16 29 42:7-8 70 44:17 127, 128
35:17 29,50,51, 42:8 68, 70-72 44:19 127
55 42:9 72,73 44:20-21 127, 128
35:22-23 44 42:10 29 44:20 129
35:22 29 42:11 26,69 44:22 Eng 50,51,59
36 27,46 42:12 68,69 44:23-26 129
36:2 26 43 72,74 44:23 50,51,59,
36:7 Eng 52, 53, 61 43:1 27 126-28,
36:8 52, 53, 61 43:2 29 130
37 27 43:5 68,69 44:24-25 126, 127
37:2 65 44 46, 53, 58, 44:26 121, 126,
37:39 26 59, 121, 127
37:40 26 122, 124, 46 7
38 24, 34, 125, 127- 47 7, 76, 78,
155 31,155 85,86
38:2-3 27,29 44:1-14 125 47:2 78,85
38:22 29 44: 1-8 Eng 59 47:3 78
39 24,27,46, 44:1-8 121, 126 47:4^-5 78
52,61 44:1^1 126 47:4 78
39:5 29 44:1 126-28 47:6-7 78
39: 11 Eng 50, 53, 61 44:2-9 59 47:9-10 78
39:11-12 29 44:2-3 128 47:10 78
39:12 50, 53, 61, 44:2 127 48 7
136 44:4 126, 128, 49 46, 53, 59
39:13 29 131 49:3 15
39:13 Heb 136 44:5-8 126 49:6 15
39:14 29 44:5 128 49: 12 Eng 50, 54, 59,
40:12 27,29 44:7 128 60
41 24,27 44:8 127, 128 49:13 50, 54, 59,
42^*3 46, 52, 57, 44:9-25 121 60
58 44:9-22 126-28 49: 14 Eng 50,51,59,
44:9-15 Eng 59 60
44:9^14 127
Index of References 191

49:15 50,51,53, 58 46, 53, 56, 64:11 26

59,60 57 65 7
49:20 Eng 50, 54, 59, 58:1 Eng 56 65:8 63, 64, 70
60 58: 1-2 Eng 56 65:11 63
49:21 50, 54, 59, 58:2-3 25,56 65:13 63
60 58:2 56 66A 7
50 7, 13, 46, 58:3 Eng 56 67 7
54,66 58:4 56 69 71,153
50:4-6 66 58:4 Eng 50,56 69:2-3 71
50:6 63 58:4-5 Eng 57 69:2 27
50:&-15 30 58:5-6 57 69:3 30
50:22 49, 52, 54, 58:5 50,56 69:8 26
61 58:6 Eng 50,51,56, 69:10 26
51 6, 30, 32, 57 69:15-16 71
155 58:7-8 Eng 57 69:15 25
51:3 27 58:7 50,51,56, 69:18 29
52 6, 27, 122 57 69:20 30
52:1-3 29 58:8 Eng 51,53,56, 70 Gk 6
52:9 26 57 70:2 27
53:2 26 58:8-9 57 71 6
53:5 26 58:9 51,53,56, 71:1-2 27
54 6 57 71:1 26
54:2 136 59 6, 46, 52, 71:7 26
54:3-4 27 54 71:9 29
54:4 Heb 136 59:2-3 27 71:11 26
54:5 26 59:6 Eng 50-52, 55 71:12 29
55 46, 52, 57 59:7 50-52, 55 71:18 29
55:2-3 27 59: 14 Eng 51,52,55 71:19 24
55:2 29 59:15 50-52, 55 72:19 110
55:4 30 60 6, 38, 121 73 12, 27, 46,
55:6 Eng 50,52 60:6-8 35 53,57
55:6-8 Eng 57 60:9-12 Eng: 38 73:2 Eng 52
55:7-9 57 61 46 73:3 52
55:7 50, 52, 57 61:2 27 73:11 26
55:20 26 61:4 26 73:17 12
56 6 61:4 Eng 52, 53, 61 73:22 50, 54, 57
56:2 27 61:5 52, 53, 61 73:25 24
56:3 24 62:8 26 73:28 26
57 6, 46, 52, 62:9 26 74 46, 53, 56,
54 63 6, 27, 46, 58, 121,
57:1 Eng 52,61 53 155
57:2 26, 27, 52, 63:7 Eng 52,53 74:1 50,51,56
61 63:8 52, 53, 61 74:19 51,53,59
57:3 24 64:2-3 27 75 7
57:4 Eng 50, 52, 55 64:2 136 76 7, 46, 53
57:5 50, 52, 55 64:6-7 26 76:2 Eng 52, 53, 61
57:11 110 64:8 38 76:3 52, 53, 61
192 "My Words Are Lovely'

Psalms (cont.) 86:8-10 24 88:10-12 25, 139,

76:4 69 86:13 25 144, 145
77 46, 52, 59 87 7 88:11 141, 143
77:2-3 27 88 24, 34, 72, 88: 11 Heb 141
77:8-11 29 82, 132, 88:11-12 144, 145
77:11 24 133, 137, 88:12 141, 143
77:14 24 138, 140- 88:12 Heb 141, 143
77:20 Eng 50,51,59 46 88:13 139, 142-
77:21 50, 51, 59 88: 1-19 Heb 138 44
78 46, 54, 59, 88:1-18 138 88: 13 Heb 141, 143
160, 165, 88:1-2 138 88:13-18 139
166 88:1 139, 142, 88:14 141
78:15-40 169 143, 145 88: 14 Heb 142, 143
78:44-51 165 88:2 136, 139, 88:14^15 139
78:52 50,51,54, 142, 144 88:15 29, 140,
59 88:2 Heb 142, 143 141, 143
79 46, 53, 58, 88:2-3 27 88: 15 Heb 141
121, 155 88:3 140, 141, 88:15-16 139
79:6 25 143 88:16 141, 143
79:13 50,51 88:3 Heb 136, 142 88:16 Heb 140, 141,
80 46, 53, 56, 88:3-5 25, 139 143
58 88:4 140, 141, 88:16-17 139
80:1 Eng 50, 51, 59 143 88:17 141, 143
80:2 50,51,59 88:4 Heb 140, 141, 88: 17 Heb 141, 143
80: 13 Eng 50,51,53, 143 88:17-19 29
56 88:5 140, 141, 88:18 29, 139-
80:14 50,51,53, 143 41, 143
56 88:5 Heb 140, 141, 88: 18 Heb 141, 143
81 7, 13, 76, 143 88: 19 Heb 141, 143
86 88:6 139, 141 89 11, 12,
81:2-^ 78 88:6 Heb 140, 141, 122, 145,
81:7 78 143 154
81:10 78 88:6-9 139 89:2 111
81:11 78,84 88:7 139, 141 89:9 64
81:15-17 78 88:7 Heb 141 89:19 78
81:15 78 88:7-9 29 90 12, 121,
81:17 78 88:7-8 28 153
82 7, 25, 43 88:8 71,72, 90:6 65
83 35, 38, 139^1, 91 46,53
121 143 91:4 52, 53, 61
84 7 88:8 Heb 141 91:13 50,51,53
84:8 136 88:9 139, 142, 92 46, 53, 57
84:9 Heb 136 143 92: 10 Eng 50, 53, 57
84:10 78 88:9 Heb 140, 141, 92:11 50, 53, 57
85 7,121 143 93-99 145
86:1-2 27 88:10 24, 141 93-100 154
86:1 136 88:10 Heb 142. 143 93 -T
Index of References 193

93:3 64 102:1^ 147 103:2-5 80

94 121 102:1 136 103:3^ 80
94:12 114 102:2 136 103:3 80
94:22 26 102:2 Heb 136 103:4 25,80
95-100 7 102:2-12 149-51, 103:5 50, 53, 59
95 13,46,53, 154 103:7 80
58 102:2-3 27, 149 103:8 80
95:7 50,51 102:3 149 103:9 85
96 76, 78, 79, 102:4-12 149 103:11 80,85
86 102:4 65, 149, 103:13 85
96 Gk 6 151 103:15-19 153
96:1-3 78 102:5-25 148 103:17-18 80
96:1 79 102:5 149 103:17 80,85
96:4-5 79 102:6Eng 50, 52, 53, 103:19 85
96:5 78 57 103:20-22 80
96:6 78,79 102:6-8 64 104 65, 120,
96:7-10 79 102:6-7 Eng 57 176
96:10 79 102:7 50, 52, 53, 104:21 65
96:11-12 79 57 104:23 52
96:11 63 102:7 Eng 50,51,57 104:27 65
96:12 63,79 102:7-8 57 104:32 115
96:13 79,84 102:8 50, 51, 57, 105 156-58,
97 6, 65, 68 64 160-66,
97:1-6 65 102:9 149 168, 170
97:4 65 102:11 29, 150, 105:1-15 163
97:5 65 155 105:1-6 162, 163
97:6 63, 66, 67 102:12 149 105:1-3 162
98 76, 79, 86 102:13-23 149, 150. 105:5 163
98:1 79 152 105:7-11 163
98:2-3 79 102:13 149-52 105:8 162
98:4-6 79 102:14 148, 150, 105:9-10 162
98:7-8 74,79 155 105:12-15 163, 164
98:7 63 102:17-18 148 105:14 163
98:8 63 102:17 150 105:16-25 163
98:9 79,84 102:18 150 105:22 165
10:24^25 29 102:20 150 105:24 163
100 46, 53, 76, 102:24-29 151,152 105:26-36 164
79, 85, 86 102:24-25 150 105:26-27 165
100:1-2 79 102:24 150, 155 105:27 163
100:3 50,51,79, 102:26-29 149, 151 105:37^2 164
85 102:27 151 105:39^2 165
100:4 80 103-105 154 105:42 162, 163
100:5 80,85 103 46, 53, 59, 105:43-45 164
101 154 76, 80, 81, 105:45 162, 163,
102 24, 46, 52, 84-86, 165, 170
57, 147, 153 105:48 170
152-55 103:1-2 80
194 "My Words Are Lovely *

Psalms (cont.) 111:7 81 130 30, 32,

106 153, 154, 111:9 81,85 155
156-58, 111:10 81 130:1 27
160, 161, 112:4 81 130:2 136
163, 166, 113 76,81,84, 131 27
168-70 86 132 7, 35, 38,
106:1 166, 167 113:1 81,84 41,43,45
106:4 167 113:3^ 81 132:1-5 43
106:6-39 167 113:5-7 86 132:1 42
106:6-8 169 113:5^6 81 132:3-5 42
106:6-7 167 113:7-9 81 132:7 42
106:7 167 114 46, 53, 54, 132:8-10 42
106:8 167, 169 60 132:10 42,43
106:9-12 167 114:4 50, 51, 53 132:11-18 43
106:13-15 167 114:6 50,51,53 132:11-12 41,43
106:16-18 167 117 76, 81, 86 132:11 42, 43, 45
106:19-22 167 117:2 82 132:14^18 41
106:23 167 118 7, 46, 53, 134 76
106:24-27 167 54 135 160
106:32-33 168 118:8 26 135:5-7 162
106:34-39 168 118:9 26 136 76, 160,
106:38-31 168 118:12 50,53 163, 166,
106:40-43 168, 170 119 46, 54, 57, 169
106:44^46 168 109-11 136:1-2 166
106:45 166, 167, 119:1-2 114 136:4-9 162
169 119:137 109 136:17-22 169
106:47-48 166 119:149 136 137 121
106:47 167, 168 119:172 82 139 92
106:48 168 119:176 50, 54, 57 140 35, 38, 43,
107 46, 54, 58 119:67 110 45,46,52
107:28-29 64 119:89-91 119 140:1-11 44
107:41 50,51,54, 120-34 7 140:1 44
59 120 24 140:2-3 44
108:5 110 120:1 27 140:2 27
108:7-9 35 121 129 140:3 Eng 50, 53, 55,
109 46, 52, 57 121:1 24 57
109:1 27 121:3 129 140:4-5 44
109:23 51,57 121:11 129 140:4 44, 50, 53,
111 76,81,84, 121:19 129 55,57
86,110 121:22 129 140:6 44
111:1 81 123 121 140:8 43,44
111:2 81 124 46, 58, 71 140:9 44
111:3 81 124:2-5 71 140:10 44
111:4 50,81 124:6 52,54 140:11 43,44
111:5 81 124:7 50, 52, 54, 140:12 43,44
111:6 50,81 59 140:13 43,44
111:7-8 81 140:14 43
Index of References 195

141 24 147:6 173, 174, 149:6-8 83

141:1 27 176, 183, 149:9 83
141:8 26, 28, 29 184 150 12, 76, 83,
142 6 147:7-11 173 86
142:1-2 27 147:7-10 175 150:2 83
142:6 26 147:7 82, 173, 150:3-5 83
143 24, 155 176 150:6 64
143:1 27, 136 147:8-9 83, 173,
143:7 25 174, 183 Proverbs
144:2 26 147:9-20 173 1:2-7 134
144:15 114 147:9 184 5:21 115
145 66, 122 147:10-11 83,116, 15:2 67
145:10-12 66 173-75, 15:3 115,120
145:10 64 183 18:4 67
145:11 63,67 147:11 175 19:21 114,120
146-150 173 147:12-20 173 21:30-31 120
146 76, 82, 86, 147:12 82, 173, 21:31 116
173 175, 183
146:1-2 82 147:13-14 83, 173, Isaiah
146:3-7 86 183, 184 6 9
146:6 82,85 147:13 174, 175, 6:3 110
146:7 82 183 8:10 120
146:8 82 147:14 83 11:1 42
146:9 82 147:15-20 112 11:4 43
146:10 82,85 147:15-18 173, 175, 14:30 43
147 76, 82, 84, 183, 184 16:2 65
86, 109, 147:16-17 175 26:17 65
119,171- 147:16 175 29:16 115
73, 176, 147:17 175 32:7 43
183-86 147:18 175 40-55 153
147:1-11 173 147:19-20 173, 175, 40 4,120
147:1-8 172 183, 184 40:8 114
147:1-6 173 147:19 83, 173, 40:15 114
147:1 82, 173, 175 40:23 114
174, 183 147:20 83 41 37
147:2-3 173 148 63, 83, 86, 41:8-13 35,39
147:2 82, 84, 85, 119 41:10 35
173, 174, 148:1-5 83 41:17 43
183 148:5-6 83,112 42:11 64
147:3 82, 85, 148:6 85 44:13 68
174, 183, 148:7-13 83 45:23 112
184 148:7 74 48:13 112,120
147:4-5 173, 174, 148:13 83 51:15 70
183 149 7, 76, 83, 55:9-11 120
147:4 82, 174, 86 57:14-21 80
176 149:1 83 60:5 70
147:5 83, 174, 149:2 83 66:1-5 30
183 149:4 83
196 "My Words Are Lovely'

Jeremiah Joel Acts

8:21 43 1:20 65 7:2-53 161
8:22 43 2 37 7:2-5 164
9:1 43 2:19-22 35, 39 7:32 162
9:23-24 120 7:38-44 169
10:12-13 120 Amos 8:27 162
10:13 70 1:2 61 10:34-43 161
14 169 2:7 43 13:16-41 161
14:5 68 4:1 43
14:18 80 5:11 43 2 Timothy
16:4 80 8:4 43 3:16-17 133, 135
23:29 176 8:6 43
31:20 104 TALMUDS
32:16-25 161 Jonah Babylonian Talmud
33:15 42 2 72 b. Sotah
33:26 162 2:4 71, 72 48a 130
49:20 114
51:16 70 4:11-12 114 Aristotle
51:42 70 Rhetoric
Habakhik 1.2.1 132
Lamentations 2:1 144 1.3.1-3 75
3:55-57 35,37 3:14 43 1.3.55 30
3:57 40 2.22.10-12 76
5 153 Zephaniah 3.13.3 156
33:55-57 39,40 2:14 64 3.13.5 156
3.16.3 157
Ezekiel Zechariah 3.16.5 157
2:10 65 3:8 42 3.16.8 157
20 169, 170 6:12 42 3.16.10 157
20:5-26 161 7:10 43
20:10-22 169 11:1-3 65 Cicero
20:23-26 169 Topica
20:23-24 170 APOCRYPHA/DEUTERO- 1.6-8 76
Daniel Ecclesiasticus Quintilian
2:20-23 165 35:15 66 Institutio Oratorio
2.4.2 158
Hosea 1 Maccabees 4.2.1-20 158
4:1 15 2:19-22 129 4.2.21 158
4:3 69 4.2.61-132 158
7:14 15 NEW TESTAMENT 9.4.133-47 158
13:4 23 Luke 11.3.161-64 158
14:9 134 18:1-8 145
14:10 109 The Orator's Education
John 5.10.20-29 76
20:30-31 134

Abrams,M.H. 152 Carney, S. 144

Albertz,R. 108 Carruthers, P. 177
Allen, L. C. 148-50,153,173, 175 Chamberlain, A. 177
Alonso-Schokel, L. 46,71 Childs,B. S. 11
Alter, R. 108,109 Childs,C. 74
Anderson, A. A. 78, 79, 81, 82, 148,175 Clarke, A. L. 180
Anderson, B. 151,156 Clifford, R J. 13, 71, 77, 112, 128, 149,
Atran, S. 181 151, 163
Clines, D. J. A. 65
Barr, J. 25 Cody, A. 160
Barre,M.L. 70 Coetzee,J.H. 92,93
Barrett, J. L. 177-81,184,185 Cohen, A. 163
Barton, J. 123 Cole,RL. 146
Batto,B.F. 129 Colston, H.L. 97
Begrich, J. 33, 135 Conrad,!. 140
Bellinger, W. H., Jr. 124, 147 Craigie,P.C. 13,16,56
BenZvi,E. 159 Creach,J. 10
Berlin, A. 46, 58, 109 Crenshaw, J. L. 53,54
Berquist, J. L. 103 Cross, F.M. 36
Beuken, W. A. M. 78 Crusemann,F. 137,139
Beyerlin, W. 99, 100 Culley,RC. 137,141,155
Biggs, R. D. 44
Bird, P. A. 102 D'Andrade,R 97,99
Bitzer,L.F. 5 Dahood, M. 13, 68, 159,162,166,174,175
Bloomer, W. M. 76 Darr,K.P. 169
Boda,M.J. 160,161,166 Davidson, R. 91, 100, 173
Boersema, J. J. 101 Davis, E. 55
Booth, W.C 4,49 DeClaisse-Walford, N. 10,123,124,130
Borowski, O. 64 Deissler, A. 108, 120
Bouzard,W. C. 37 Dempsey, C. J. 65
Boyer,P. 177,178,181-83 Deutsch, B. 152
Brooke, G. J. 166 Diable,K. 20
Brown,?. 94 Dietrich, W. 19
Brown, W. P. 46, 55, 62,97, 102,103 Downey, M. 160
Broyles, C. C. 13,15, 25, 33, 34,150 Driver, G. R. 64,65
Brueggemann, W. 10, 12,41, 78, 82, 142 Dunbar,R 179, 182
Brunt, J. C. 76
Bullock, C.H. 135 Eco,U. 3,18
Burden, J. J. 173,175,176 Estes,D.J. 135
Buss,M.J. 159
Fensham, F. C. 156
Calvin, J. 112 Feuer,A. 109
Campbell. A. F. 159, 160 Firth. D. G. 134
198 "My Words Are Lovely "

Flesher, L. 40
Forti, T. 46 Labuschagne, C. J. 24
Foster, B. R. 21,22 Lambert, D. 34
Foster, R. L. 75 LeMon,J.M. 64
Fretheim, T. E. 63 Leder, D. 94, 95,103-105
Frymer-Kensky, T. 28,29 Lenhard, H. 69
Gamble, H.Y. 162 Levenson, J. 114,120
Levinson, S. C. 94
Gerstenberger, E. 7,16,18,34,57,71,124, Limburg,J. 10,13,124
Gertz,J.C. 160 Mascarenhas, T. 165
Gibbs,R.W. 97 Mays, J. L. 10, 13, 62, 80, 83, 85-87, 100,
Gillingham, S. E. 122 102,108,119,155,162,174
Goldsmith, D. 67 McCann, J. C. 10, 11, 13, 79, 80, 82, 124,
Green, B. 61 134,149,153,162,163,165-67
Gruber,M.L 63 McFague, S. 47-49
Gunkel, H. 6,33,108,124,135,136,141 Mettinger,T. Ill
Miller, P. D. 12, 20, 21, 35-37, 39, 42, 46,
Harrelson, W. 101 55, 86,136,152
Hasel,G. 87 Mitchell, D. C. 134
Hauser,A.J. 156 Mithen,S. 181
Heiler,S. 35 Moller,K. 5,75
Heschel,A.J. 130 Morrow, W. S. 32
Holladay, C. R. 122 Mowinckel, S. 7,23,36
Holm-Nielsen, S. 163 Muilenberg, J. 4, 5, 75,123,132,159
Hossfeld, F.-L. 13, 71,140,162 Murfm,R. 49
Howard, D. M., Jr. 11,132,134,147 Murphy, R. E. 57,159
Hugo, P. 137,139
Hulst,A.R. 100,102 Nasuti,H. 11,87
Nordin,J. 102
niman, K.-J. 137 Noms,K. 47
Nowell,!. 137
Jacobsen,T. 20,34,68
Jacobson, R. 9,73 Olbrechts-Tyteca, L. 93,102
Janowski,B. 137,139 Olbricht, T. H. 158
Janzen, J. G. 36
Johnson, A. 7 Patrick, D. 19,30,31
Johnson, M. 96,97,99,101,103,104 Perdue, L. 110
Johnston, P. 142 Perelman, C. H. 93,102
Phillips, L. 64
Kelsey,N. 95 Powell, M. A. 164
Kennedy, G. 5, 77,133 Preuss,H. D. 85
Kim,E.K. 36 Prinsloo, W. S. 137,141,142
Kim,H.C.P. 159 Pr6stl,V. 166
Klein, R.W. 154 PyysiSinnen, L 171,177
Klopfenstein, M. 19
Knierim,R. 159 Ray, S. M. 49
Kraus, H.-J. 7, 8,13,43, 56, 59, 71, 77-80, Resseguie, J. L. 164
83,92,140,149,151,153 Richards, I. A. 47,48
Kuntz,J.K. 54 Ridderbos, N. H. 93
Index of Authors 199

Riede,P. 65 Trible,P. 122,124

Ringgren, H. 85 Trudinger, P. L. 64
Robbins, R. 152 Tuan,Y.-F. 97-99
Robbins,V.K. 159 Tucker, G. M. 159
Rudolph, W. 69 Tyson, N. 67

Schroer, S. 101 Vancil, J. W. 79

Scult,A. 19,30,31 Vorster,J.N. 99
Sedlmeier, F. 147
Senn, F. C. 160 Wales, K. 48
Seybold,K. 11,13,73 Watson, D.F. 156
Shakespeare, W. 47 Weiser, A. 7, 25, 36,43,158,162,166
Soden, W. von 20 Westermann, C. 9, 21, 26, 34, 36, 38, 40,
Staubli,T. 101 77, 85-87,108,135,136,139,149,151
Steck, O. H. 93,102 White, R. E.G. 137
Steen,G. 49 Whitehouse, H. 171, 180,182, 184,185
Stevens, M. E. 163 Whybray,R.N. 11
Strawn,B. 64 Willis, J.T. 81
Stuhlmueller, C. 151 Wilson, G. H. 10-12, 87, 122,153
Swanson,D. 48 Wolff, H. W. 92
Sweeney, M. A. 159 Wolfreys,J. 152
Womack,K. 152
Tate, M. 52, 93,100,137 Wuellner, W. 5, 8
Taylor, W. R. 159,166 Wynn,T. 180
Terrien, S. 58,71
Toorn, K. van der 20, 22 Zenger, E. 11,13, 71,137,139,140
Tournay,R.J. 38,41,43 Zimmerli,W. 119
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