Scholars have debated whether there was in fact a purposeful ordering of the Psalter. Using Psalms 1-2 as an example, I want to argue that a close reading of the Psalter will demonstrate that it was purposefully ordered by redactors. If the Psalter is the result of early purposeful editorial activity (probably sometime during the second temple period), the book of Psalms should be read as one book with one message with various themes, not one-hundred and fifty distinct psalms. Consequently, the task of the interpreter of the Psalms becomes more complex. The interpreter must not only be concerned with the Psalm he or she is interpreting, but also the surrounding psalms become essential for understanding.
Is this task a scholar’s foolish errand? How important is this step to interpreting a psalm? A person may say, “it is the Psalms that are inspired, not the order of the Psalms.” Well, this point may be true, but even from a strictly theological viewpoint, God has remained sovereign over the preservation of His word. Though the redactor of the Psalms may not have been inspired (who knows this for certain?), God has providentially ordered the Psalter in the way it has been arranged. But someone will say, “we do not attempt to figure out God’s providence in other matters, why should we attempt to figure out his providence in the ordering of the Psalter?”. This is my answer to the interlocutor. The individual Psalms have too many connections between them, not to investigate and attempt to formulate some rational for why Psalm 150 did not become Psalm 1. Or why does Book III (Pss 73-89), the book of Psalms which struggles to find hope in God, follow Psalm 72, a prayer of Solomon, which is quite hopeful that God will prosper the King and that the glory of Yahweh will fill the earth (Ps 72:19 MT)? What is the text of the Psalter communicating by placing these psalms adjacent to one another?
Psalms 1-2: a Case Study
Psalms 1-2 are important for at least two reasons: 1) they are the only two Psalms in the LXX psalter without titles and 2) if it can be established that these two Psalms were purposefully placed adjacent to one another at the commencing of the Psalter, then Psalms 1-2 may reveal the main themes of the Psalter. How shall one prove that these two psalms were purposefully placed adjacent to one another? I suggest (others have suggested this as well) that the interpreter begin by looking for linguistic linkage between the Psalms that might indicate thematic overlap between the two psalms. “Linguistic linkage” may be anything from the two psalms sharing the same words, phrases, roots of words, and even two words that might occupy the same semantic domain.
Linguistic Linkage in Psalms 1-2
Psalms 1-2 contain examples of linguistic linkage. The following is the complete list of links (cf. David Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter, JSOT 252, 73):
1. 1:1 ashrey (“Blessed”) 2:12 ashrey
2. 1:2 torah (“Law”) 2:7 choq (“decree,” statute”)
3. 1:2 yehgeh (“Meditates”) 2:1 yehgu (“Plot”)
4. 1:6 derek . . . tobed (“the way . . . will perish”) 2:12 tobdu derek (“you perish in the way”)
Numbers 1,3, and 4 are clear links between these two psalms. The second link falls into the category of the same semantic domain, and may be less clear, although Mitchell does include it in his analysis of these psalms. The first example of linkage functions as an inclusio, bracketing the two psalms together. In the Psalm 1, the man is blessed when he does not take counsel with the wicked but he delights in the Torah of Yahweh and meditates on it day and night. In Psalm 2, all are blessed who take refuge in Yahweh’s anointed one. Psalm 1:2 says that that the man who meditates on God’s law day and night will be blessed. In Psalm 2:1, the nations are not meditating on God’s law, rather they are plotting a vain thing against Yahweh and his anointed. A common theme that these Psalms explicitly share is the destruction of the wicked. In Psalm 1:6, it is clear that the “way” of the wicked will perish. By definition, the wicked are unstable, comparable to the chaff, which the wind blows away. They have not digested the Torah of Yahweh, which would cause them to be like trees planted by streams of water. The righteous one will prosper in all he does. In Psalm 2:12, the wicked rulers and kings, who do not kiss the Son (Yahweh’s anointed one), will perish in the way. They have rebelled against Yahweh and his anointed, thus they will perish.
These two psalms should be read together in some manner. How does the interpreter arrive at his interpretation?
Reading Psalms 1-2 as the Introduction to the Psalter
What may we glean from this reading of Psalms 1-2? I suggest that this reading of Psalms 1-2 combines the two main themes of the Psalter and combines them in a masterful way. The first theme is the Torah. The Torah was the very center of the Old Covenant. The blessed one is the one who does not take counsel with the wicked but he delights in the Torah and meditates on it day and night. This man prospers in all he does. The Torah was also God’s program for how humanity was to live. After the Fall of Adam in the garden, God set out to redeem humanity through his elected agents. In Genesis 12:1, he chose Abraham, and from Abraham Israel was chosen to be the new humanity, which would function much like God’s intention for Adam. They were to take the rule and reign of God to the ends of the earth. The Torah was the law or instruction for Israel, and Israel was to teach it to the nations. The Torah is what contained the basics of all ethics: love of God and love of neighbor.
The second theme is the Messiah and the reign of Yahweh. Time does not allow for tracing this theme back to Eden where Adam reigned as king over creation. The Davidic king has been promised an everlasting dominion (2 Sam 7:13ff). David understood that the king was the deity’s representative over whatever part of the world that particular deity controlled. However, David was a monotheist, and he understood his God to be sovereign over all of creation. Therefore it is natural that David would have understood that his dynasty would rule over the entire created order (Ps. 2:8-9). Not only would David’s dynasty rule, but it is clear from Deuteronomy 17:13-20 that the king would have a strong relationship with the Torah. He would copy it and read it so that he may continue long in his kingdom. The king would bring the Torah with him wherever he went. As the kingdom spread, so would the Torah of Yahweh for the members of the kingdom. In the OT, Israel was anticipating a time when the Torah would go out to many nations from Mt. Zion (Isaiah 2:3).
The Psalter speaks on these two issues at length in other Psalms (Ps 119 and 89 to name a couple). The Torah psalms analyse the function of the Torah, while the Davidic and Messianic Psalms speak about the sufferings and glories of the Davidic king and Messiah. I am not saying that every Psalm has one of these two themes present. Rather I am suggesting that these two Psalms encompass the ideal, Yahweh’s anointed one who rules to the ends of the earth by the instruction of the Torah. Some of the Psalms will express despair precisely because this ideal has not been realized (e.g. Book III).
In this post, I attempted to make a case for the purposeful organization of the Psalter. Although more work remains to demonstrate this organization, I took a case study of Psalms 1-2 and attempted to give some criteria for establishing inter-Psalms connections. Linguistic and thematic links became the two criteria for establishing an intentional ordering of the Psalms.
After the attempted demonstration of the connection between Psalms 1-2, I then suggested an interpretation of Psalms 1-2 based on their link to one another and also based on their placement at the commencement of the Psalter. I concluded that in these two Psalms two major themes of the Hebrew Bible, Torah and Kingship, come together in a way that suggests that the King’s dynasty will bring the Torah to the ends of the earth and the King will live according to the Torah and not according to the wicked who will perish in the way.