This limmud is part of the ongoing FHJC Psalm 27 Series. The rest of the content can be found here : https://www.sefaria.org/groups/FHJC-Psalm-27-Series .
Before we start speaking about this prayer-poem together, first just take a few minutes to read through it on your own, trying your best to approach it with fresh eyes.
As you do, here are two sets of questions to keep in mind. The first set includes initial guiding questions which we will continually circle back to throughout our sessions. The second set will be the first topic we will really focus on.
Initial Guiding Questions
- Who is the speaker? (How many are there? What is the speaker/s like? What is the speaker/s' age? Sex? Socio-political standing? Religious beliefs/convictions?)
- What is the speaker/s doing? (Asking for something? Expressing something? Trying to accomplish something?)
- What are the speaker/s' emotions?
- Who is the intended audience?
Genre and Division
- What genre would you place this Psalm into? (The convention is divide psalms into 5 genres; praise, wisdom, royal, thanksgiving, and lament.)
- How many units, or sections are there?
- What are the various themes, or motifs, in each section?
- Why might the sections be in this order?
Let's start talking about genre. You might have had a hard time placing this one prayer cleanly into one, for it certainly exhibits elements which would pull it in different directions.
That is not uncommon when categorizing Judean and Israelite prayer-poems. The reason for this is a sudden and dramatic shift in tone at some point. (Can you spot where that happens here?)
So take another look, but this time treating the poem until this moment as one prayer-poem, and the everything after this moment as a separate prayer poem. Can you now cleanly place each of these into one genre?
Here is something fascinating, which many people never notice on their own; But then once it is pointed out to them, they start seeing everywhere;
The above phenomenon, of a Judean or Israelite prayer-poem starting off one way, but then exhibiting a complete! turnaround, is an incredibly widespread feature throughout all of the prayer-poems they have left us.
The most common genre of the prayer-poems is the lament, or an urgent and desperate plea. But most laments will not end until becoming, suddenly and quite jarringly, a joyous and celebratory prayer of thanksgiving!
Here are three examples. Can you spot this sudden mood-switch?
With that, let's look back our prayer-poem of interest, Psalm 27. Here it is again.
How is this one similar and different from what we have seen in the above three examples?
As you might have picked up on, while the examples above go from lament to thanksgiving/praise; this one seems to go the other way around!
Take a moment to think on this. Why would this be?
Consider the different moments in your life when you would feel a need to turn to the Almighty in prayer, and feel free to respond to any of the following questions:
- Are there moments when, if praying with your own words and from your own heart, you might express something which is consistent with the structure of any of what we have seen above?
- When and why would you utter something which has the structure of, say, Psalm 6? And when would it look like Psalm 27?
- What kind of an impact would you, as the pray-er, be intending to have on YHWH when reciting something which follows either of the above structures?
- How might you, as the pray-er, be affected during and after the recitation of one of these types verses the other?
It also pays to keep in mind when the a Judean (or Israelite) poet picks up on a root that had already been used and revisits it.
Oftentimes when this happens, the psalter is intending a juxtaposition between the two vereses with shared roots in order to emphasize a contrast or a common denominator.
Let's look at some of that here:
What do you think about this point? Does reading these verses in light of each other add any dimension of meaning for you? Could the psalter be trying to communicate something beyond the mere meaning of the words themselves?