Numerical Features of the Psalms

via Numerical Features of the Psalms


My sin is ours

I John 1 points us toward koinonia (fellowship). By definition it can’t be pursued individually because it’s a description of relationship. The greek term for “Saint” is always plural. There are no holy individuals – there is only a collective body who has been set apart to be made holy.

From this perspective, sin is not seen as an a “my/your” problem, but as a “we” problem. The sin that I confess is a description of what has happened in our own body. My sin has darkened our fellowship. So when the confessed sin is cleansed, all participate in the resulting joy of koinonia.

Psalm 32

Surprise! – it’s not the perfect man who is blessed – it’s the forgiven sinner?! A truly righteous and upright man (v 11) is the one who honestly confesses his sin and is forgiven (v 2). This irritates the Pharisee in every single human in history because it discounts our own goodness.

The darkness/sickness/fear that surrounds unconfessed sin and guilt is the mercy of God. It is his hand that is crushing us in order to turn us towards repentance (v 4).

There is a contrast between the one who tries to cover his own guilt and the LORD’s true covering of our iniquity. When we keep our sin “hidden”, it eats us. But when we bring it out of hiding and confess it to the LORD, he protects us from it. The hiding place in verse 7 is covenantal: there are no outside enemies here who are trying to attack David – it’s his own sin that is killing him!

The shouts/songs of deliverance are key here. God actually enjoys forgiving sinners. He sings about it. It glorifies him as the True Deliverer, the True Savior. Coming to Him while knowing ourselves to be sinners is an invitation, not a threat.

Given this, the comparison to a mule is humbling – why is our instinct to run and hide our sin from God? He is our only hope of covering. He has shown this to every human from Adam on down the line.

The only way to be righteous is to confess our unrighteousness. The only way for our sin to be covered is for it to be uncovered.

Psalm 30

Verse 6 might be an expression of pride, but what if it is just a rephrasing of verse 1 from a personal perspective… maybe he’s not talking about personal fulfillment, but just actually understanding that because he has been lifted up by the LORD, he cannot be moved.

Within this context, verse 9 does not read as manipulative, but as again a correct understanding of what it means to be human: to praise God and declare His truth. Death seems to be equated with the silence of praise – an end to what it means to be truly human.

The psalm is personal because it does not deny the experience of being estranged from God, but it offers an eternal perspective that invades the personal. The anger/weeping/mourning/distance is temporary, but the singing/remembrance/praise/life/health/dancing/gladness is forever.

But this isn’t just a philosophy – it’s entirely real. The enemies/blood/grave are real. Death is real. This means that God’s rescue is real. He has turned the mourning into dancing. He has clothed us. He’s done this in real time so that we can be the people we’re supposed to be and praise him forever.

Psalm 29

Give strength and glory (v 1,2) to the One who gives strength and glory (v 11). Again, glory/strength/power/rule is only something that can be received.

“The voice” – similar in structure and intent to “God said” in Genesis 1. God sits (v 10) and speaks. His Word is power.

The “voice list” is surrounded by water language. Is the water chaos? Or is it the outside nations (which are more specifically described in vs 3-9)? Either way his kingdom is described as well beyond the borders of Israel.

Psalm 28

This seems like a direct riff on Moses’ song in Deuteronomy 32. It starts out with the same Rock language, and speaks of reactions to the LORD’s deeds and the LORD’s inheritance.

What kind of rock is God? Is he like the silent idol rocks of the nations? If so then there is no hope for David.

There’s a lot of vocal/hearing language in this Psalm:

  • I cry
  • be not silent
  • hear my voice
  • who speak peace, but…
  • the LORD hears my voice
  • my song

The wicked talk the talk, but their hearts are full of themselves. But David trusts the LORD, and his heart is filled. The wicked remember their own plans/work/hands instead of God’s plans/work/hands (see Deuteronomy 32:27). They judge themselves and are judged because of it.

David does not want to be “dragged” away with the wicked, but instead to be ruled/fed/shepherded. These actions seem similar – they both involve moving a creature to a new destination. The questions is which group David is in – the inside group (sanctuary) or the outside group (pit).

Ultimately David clings to the promise that Israel is the LORD’s inheritance (Deuteronomy 32:9), and that the LORD is forever faithful to his people. He asks that the LORD continue to do what he has always done (Deuteronomy 32:10-15).

This appeal to Deuteronomy 32 is frightening, because Deuteronomy 32 is talking about the people of Israel becoming God’s adversaries. So are the wicked in Psalm 28 being “dragged away” from national Israel? And is David then appealing for the reformation of a new Israel? Verse 5 might play into this – the wicked are torn down but not rebuilt; does this mean that the definition of righteous Israel is one who is torn down but also being rebuilt (i.e lifted up) – and one who is so humble that they recognize their need to be torn down and rebuilt?

Psalm 26

Movement language: Instead of sliding (v 1), he wants to stand firm (v 12). Instead of sitting (v 4,5) he walks (v 1,3,11). But how? Answer – by following the firm path of Psalm 1:6.

It’s as if the Psalmist is taking Psalm 1 and personalizing it:

  • He does not sit with the wicked nor walk with the ungodly (Psalm 1:1).
  • He does not want to be gathered with the wicked (harvest language of Psalm 1:4)
  • He is focused on being rooted (Psalm 1:3)
  • He is more concerned with the destination of the path than the current scene (compare Psalm 1:5,6)

As in Psalm 1, the focus could be more on the tree than on the river of water that feeds it. But this is foolish: David knows here that the place that the tree is planted (the habitation of God) is more important than the tree itself. The ability to stand firm is not a property of tree roots – it’s a property of the soil. Verse 11 connects the idea of the tree’s integrity being related to the mercy of God: God’s redemption gives the integrity/foothold.

The wicked also get a personal Psalm 1 report card – in Psalm 1 the wicked “cannot stand”, and here they are portrayed only as “sitting”. In Psalm 1 God knows the path, and here in Psalm 26 David is walking that path. It seems that the wicked are simply refusing to move down that path, and are happy with their own counsels/congregations instead of the path to God’s counsel/congregation.