Both a plea and a praisesong, Song 40 describes a relationship between the singer and God based upon God’s compassion; the singer is, accordingly, renewed in strength and dedicates himself to sharing God’s teachings with his fellows. Nonetheless, he remembers the evils that surround him –he attributes their presence to both his own crimes and his enemies’ hatred of him– and pleads with God to rescue him from his troubles.
Intended to be played by the lead musician (v. 1), Song 39 is a melody of one note: five times does it sound the transitoriness of human life– “how fleeting I am”, v. 5
A dirge. A lament. A description of physical suffering that the singer –the sufferer– believes to be the consequence of his moral offenses. Thus his bodily ills –depicted vividly in verses 6 through 9– act as metaphors for his unnamed but obviously vile moral offenses. Appropriately, then, it is the idea of an offense that forms a central repetition in the song: v. 4, “my offense”
Song 37, a song of comfort; seemingly composed by a parent for his children, a grandparent for his grandchildren –certainly by an old man (one who identifies himself in verse 25 as “A youth I was, and have become old”) whose purpose is to instill hope in those who will follow him. Most likely, however, since the singer is David (v. 1), it is his, the old king’s, legacy to his people.
The opening line of the song juxtaposes the master or conductor of the musicians and the servant of God. This implied contrast contains no rebuke, no moral judgement. It simply denotes that even the most eminent among those who sing God’s praises are but servants of their divine ruler. However, the contrast that follows, that makes up the remainder of the song, is indeed a reprimand: the wicked man, choosing to be controlled by malevolency, is not only contrasted with but is defeated by God Whose governance extends throughout the earth.
Song 35 is a wail more than a song, one rising out of the singer’s hurt and frustration at having been not only betrayed but vilified by the very friends he had supported and believed in. The idea inspiring the song is not difficult –the singer calls on God for support and rescue and asks, in closing, for God’s blessing upon himself and his supporters. But the structure which puts forth –indeed, animates– the idea is intricate and complicated, made up of intertwining images. The song is composed of a thrice-repeated pattern, each of the three repetitions formed of two distinct parts: the singer’s depiction of his enemies’ attempts to destroy him; followed, somewhat abruptly, by his praise of God Whom he extols as his rescuer and protector. Thus: the despair and pleas of verses 1 to 3 are followed by the praises of verses 9 and 10; of verses 11 to 17, by verse 18; of verses 19 to 26, by verses 27 and 28. And, remarkably, though the mood of the song is bitter and certainly not one of joy –the singer, after all, is seeking redress– nonetheless, the word most often repeated throughout the song is “rejoice” — the vengeance of his opponents ultimately transfigured into the exultation of the just.
Song 34 is a praisesong that celebrates God Who offers shelter, not only to the holy ones but to the lowly and the broken-hearted. So that, while the song professes to be a means of teaching righteousness, it also emulates God by providing comfort. Though the 23 verses of the song divide easily into 2 parts, each part –especially the second– has within it several groupings, according to both tone and mood. The structure employs an alphabet form, but the 6th Hebrew letter, vav, is omitted. No explanation is given in the song for either the acrostic form or for the omission of vav, but, interestingly, it was on the 6th day, according to Genesis, that God created humankind. Could it be, then, that the entire poem –in its teachings about the relationship between God and humankind, and between one human and another– is, in effect, acting as the vav?
Song 33 celebrates creation –the creative process, that is, worked by speech and eye; together comprising perception divinely inspired but possible to the human imagination. Appropriately, then, the song divides into 7 parts; though, interestingly, those parts involve different verses, depending upon whether the divisions are according to theme (to the qualities unique to divine and to human creativity) or to a description of God’s attributes alone. In either case, the division is into 7 parts. Dividing the song into those verses which give a particular word or phrase in praise of God, describing altogether 7 attributes, the result is: verses 4 and 5 (God’s virtues); 6 and 7 (God’s word); 8 to 11 (eternal God); 12 (God’s choice of Israel); 13 to 15 (all-seeing God); 16 and 17 (God’s majesty); 18 and 19 (God’s mercy to the faithful). In this division, the 7 attributes of God are framed by the opening verses (1 to 3) and the closing (20 to 22). Even the opening three verses, moreover, compose a 7-fold march of verbs: “sing” and “praise” (v. 1); “acclaim” and “hymn” (v. 2); “sing”, “play”, and “shout” (v. 3) –each verb directing the choir to joyously proclaim Adonai. Number seven in Jewish mystics symbolizes ‘Nature’.
Composed for the purpose of instruction, Song 32 is moral teaching sounded in melody. The first verse declares its intention: the song is a maskil (משכיל Heb:) –the exact meaning of the Hebrew has long been lost, but it is apparent that it refers to a classification of song. The specific classification is hinted at by the word’s root: it is also the root of the word that begins verse 8, which Robert Alter translates as “let me teach you” (“The Book of Psalms”, p.110).
Thematically Song 31 divides into 7 parts –verses 2 to 5; 6 to 9; 10 to 14; 15 to 19; 20 and 21; 22 and 23; 24 and 25. Two seemingly disparate image patterns intersect these divisions; coming together, effortlessly, in the lines of resolve and stalwartness.