The structure of Song 20 has a precise symmetry: the 10 verses divide into two equal parts; the name Adonai is repeated 5 times. In contrast, the content is a labyrinth, puzzles within puzzles. The first puzzle presents itself immediately: verse 1 identifies the composer of the song as David. But what is not made clear is whether or not his is the voice speaking throughout the verses, and even more unclear is who the person is that he is speaking to. The “you” addressed in verses 2 to 5, and again in verse 6, is not referred to by name or by any certain identifier. What is clear, however, are the reassurances and the blessings that the speaking voice offers that unnamed “you”: the key auxiliary verb is “may” in each of the first 5 verses, sounded again in the 6th and the final verses. The speaker is praying, unmistakably in verses 1 to 5, on behalf of “you”. Undoubtably that “you” is an Israelite, for he is commended for his “meal-offerings” and ‘burnt-offerings” (v. 4). Moreover, God is imaged as dwelling in “the sanctuary” (v. 3), the Ark housing the Torah.
Three distinct elements inspire Song 18: David’s feelings of gratitude (afterall, it is a Praisesong); imagery so startling that it seems the stuff of dreams; and, finally, David’s desire to establish his dynasty .
Distinct differences in tone, mood and theme, divide Song 17 into 3 parts: verses 1 to 8, 9 to 14, and the final verse, 15.
Each of the first 8 verses centres upon imagery of the body: v. 1, ear and lips
v. 2, face and eyes
v. 3, heart and mouth
v. 4, lips
v. 5, feet
v. 6, ear
v. 7, hand
v. 8, eye
The singer’s argument is that his “guileless lips” (v. 10, his mouth that has not transgressed, have guarded his feet from stumbling (v. 5); his surety comes both from his having followed God’s dictates and from knowing that, accordingly, he will be found righteous by God. Indeed, as he declares in verse 8, God will
Guard me like the pupil of the eye;
in the shadow of Your wings hide me....
His certainty in his own rectitude and his belief that God will see in him only “what is right” (v. 2) leads him to –somewhat audaciously– direct God to hear his pleas and prayers and to show him “steadfast love” (v. 7).
The consistent image pattern of bodily organs emphasizes the likeness the singer wishes to create between himself and God; the singer’s lips are guileless because they imitate God’s by echoing the words of God’s lips (v. 4). Thus his body acts as a mirror to God, Who, beholding the singer, sees God’s image.
With verse 9, the tone and theme of the song darken. The reason the singer has asked for God’s shelter in the preceding verses is explained: his enemies surround him just as would a lion ambush its prey. The imagery of verses 9 to 14 is opposite, in intent and mood, to that of verses 1 to 8. The singer’s enemies are described as savage beasts; powerful, arrogant and brutal:
They have fattened themselves over;
their mouths have spoken in arrogance.
Our steps they now have hemmed in;
they set their eyes roaming over the land.
(v. 10 – 11)
Their lips, fat with arrogance, contrast with those of the singer, whose prayers mouth the words of God; their eyes, “roaming over the land”, search for prey, in contrast to the eyes of God which seek out righteousness.
Asking God to shield him (v. 8), the singer feels himself protected by God’s care and closeness: God’s eyelids shut over him; God’s wings not only offer protection, they cast a shadow over the singer so that his presence is hidden from his assailants. So guarded and secured, the singer sends God forth as his warrior:
Rise, Adonai! Go forth to meet him.
Bring him down, save my soul from the
wicked by Your sword….
Verse 14 declares the singer’s victory: his enemies, by their perfidy, forfeit their share of life; whereas God’s “treasured ones” –and it is certain the singer considers himself among them– will, by their righteousness, ensure the prosperity and the future of their children.
Verse 15 is the final change in, indeed the resolution to, mood and theme. After great clamour, quietude:
As for me, justified, I will behold Your face;
awake, I shall be sated with the vision of You.
The purpose of the song’s imagery clarifies: in verses 1 to 8, the singer expects that his actions, his life, will be judged to be free of guile and shamefulness:
From before Your face my vindication
will issue forth; Your eyes will behold
what is right. (v. 2)
Verse 15 proclaims the singer to be “justified”, his righteousness has been established. In verse 2 it is God’s face that sees the singer; in verse 15 it is the singer who will, he imagines, with eyes fully opened, perceive the Face of God. His sustenance will be not only the words of God of the opening verses, but his entire being will be animated by his vision of God. Thus physicality, the substance of the song’s imagery, transforms into spiritual exultation.
For today’s reader, Song 16 — stately, hopeful, sure of God’s beneficence — is an antidote to the violence and hatred against Israel and the Jews lately launched not only by the rockets from Gaza but also by the international news media.
The form or structure of Song 15 matches its content or theme: the standards of moral conduct are set forth in 5 verses; each verse divides into 2 or 3 phrases, but for the closing verse, which consists of 3 phrases followed by a single declaration. The numbers 5,3,2 and 1 are prime numbers — just as they cannot be divided by numbers other than themselves (or 1), so too the stated rules cannot be broken. That is, they are immutable, not meant for a specific time or culture or society but meant for all individuals who seek to “reside in [God’s] tabernacle”, to “be present on [God’s] holy mountain” (v. 1). Indeed, to be granted God’s presence is precisely the blessing, according to the singer, bestowed upon those who follow the moral precepts which form the melody of Song 15.
A bleak vision. The opening, more of a dirge than a praisesong. The singer sees a spiritual desert where “there is no one who does good” (v. 1). Worse yet, God “looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there is a wise man, a man who seeks God” (v. 2), and concludes,
The singer’s anguish in Song 13 is so acute that the four repetitions of “how long” in verses 2 and 3 sound a scream rather than a lament. The source of the singer’s grief is the seeming absence of God — “How long, ADONAI, will You forget me? Eternally? How long will You hide Your face from me?” (V. 2) — and the certain presence of his enemies — “How long will my enemy be raised up?” (v. 3). The Hebrew words for “how long” — עַד אָנָה — imply a place or location, unlike the English which concern time alone. Thus the Hebrew conveys the singer’s sense of dislocation, without the anchoring presence of God, while the English can only suggest the plea for his own endurance.
The structure of Psalm 12 mirrors its content exactly; their reflection, each of the other, parallel. The song consists of 9 lines, with verses 3, 6 and 9 explicitly exemplifying the intricate, intimate connection between form and idea; the numbers themselves indicating both a duality and a triad. The duality is immediately established in verse 2: the opposition between the “devout” and those who have supplanted them –have, indeed, eradicated them (“no more”, “no longer”) – the singer calls upon Adonai to resolve. And although Adonai thereby acts as the third element, in relation to the dual, nonetheless it is Adonai who is first named: “Deliver [me], Adonai …” (v. 2). The Hebrew verb, הוֹשִׁיעָה, “deliver”, lacks an object to complete it, but the clear implication is that the singer is defining himself as pleading for the needy.
Song 11 presents unsolvable puzzles to its interpreters. It begins by adding a stanza to the usual identification of its composer, in itself a divergency from the previous Songs 3 to 10. Moreover, the stanza refers to someone unseen and unnamed, but for the pronoun “you”. Following immediately upon David’s assertion, “In Adonai I sheltered” (v. 1), is David’s recounting, and questioning, of the advice he has been given by “you”: “How could you speak to my soul, ‘wander, from your mountain, bird’?” (v. 1). The “you” whose words David is repeating may simply be an observer, warning him of danger. But equally as probable, “you” may be, while not one of the conspirators plotting against David, nonetheless a taunter, one who questions, derisively, why David should be seeking refuge in God rather than hiding in the sure haven of the mountains.