Literary Analysis of Psalm 70 (and 71)

Both songs, 70 and 71, are built on doublings; that is, on the pairings of words similar in meaning and connotation. Pairing of words is a common note in many, if not most, of the Praisesongs. But, in these two, it is the dominant chord. Song 70 pairs words not only within its individual verses but also from one verse to another. Thus: in verse 2, the singer asks God “to aid me, hasten”; verse 3, he hopes his foes will “be disgraced and abashed”; verse 4, his foes taunt him, “Aha, aha!”; verse 5, the singer gives, to those who seek God, the blessing, “May they be glad and rejoice in You”. The effect is as if two voices were sounding the same note, one after the other. The doubling is itself doubled, repeated, as a word in one verse re-appears in a later verse. Thus: –“hasten”, in verses 2 and 6 –“aid”, verses 2 and 6 –“seek”, verses 3 and 5 –” disgrace”/”disgraced”, verses 3 and 4 –“back”, verses 3 and 4, and echoed in verse 4 in “retreat” This repetition of words, from one verse to another, becomes the singer’s means of transforming his enemies’ assault of him into God’s protection of him. In this way, the poet’s wish in verse 3 –“may they fall back in shame, those who desire my injury”– becomes, in verse 6, “O God, do not hold back [Your protection of me]”. The intent of the words themselves transforms from malevolent to beneficial. The song closes with two powerful pairings, “I am lowly and needy” and “You are my aid and my rescuer”. Moreover, one pair is the opposite of the other: the attributes of the singer, lowly and needy, are inversions of God’s, who aids and rescues. And it is God’s protection –“do not hold back”– that ensures the singer’s foes will “fall back in shame” (verse 3) and “retreat in disgrace” (verse 4). The singer thereby transcends his own lowliness, and the words he sings change their shape: his enemies retreat but God, for the singer, never will.


Psalm 70 continues with Psalm 71, here