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The Individual and the Community – Psalm 25

I’m still continuing my introduction to Psalm 25. I have commented here and here about the themes I see in Psalm 25, but I haven’t said a word so far about the structure of the Psalm. This hardly seems right. It is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. But, I wanted to give you an idea why I find this Psalm so interesting.

Hebrew AlphabetWell, the structure is interesting too. This is one of those alphabetic psalms. The first verse begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the next verse with the next letter, and so forth. (Other such psalms are 9, 10, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119 and 145.) The last verse is outside this structure. So, verses 1-21 are alphabetic in structure. Verse 22 is like a postscript comment. Commentators are quick to assert that verse 22 comes from a different author, though (of course) that need not be true.

It’s always good to know about this alphabetic structure. Then, we do not expect too much from the Psalm — the constraints of the alphabetic structure limit freedom of expression. Craigie writes (p. 217):

but, inevitably the acrostic pattern imposes certain limitations on the poet, and as a consequence there is not a clearly developed internal sequence of thought within the psalm. The verses alternate between prayers or petitions and expressions of the psalmist’s confidence in God.

But, there is one very interesting feature: verse 22 stands outside the alphabetic structure. It takes the individualistic reflections and applies them to the nation.

Which allows me to vent a long-standing complaint I have about some of the commentaries on the Psalms. At one time it was common for commentators to complain about the “individualistic” language of the Psalms — or to try to explain that they were not as individualistic as they seemed. One commentary I read years ago took time to explain how the “I” in the Psalms was really the “I” of the community. It was not the individual, it was the congregation speaking.

The structure and form of Psalm 25 certainly undermines that theory. The individualistic musings of verses 1-21 are applied to the community in verse 22, as if to say: ‘what is true for the individual believer can also be applied to the nation.’ Furthermore, this Psalm, like so many, is tied to a particular historical person in the history of Israel: David.

I don’t claim to know what לְדָוִד means. I suppose it could mean “written by David” or “for David” or “to David” or “with reference to David” or “about David” or “for the use of David.” Such is the ambiguity of the prepositional prefix לְ .

I’ve commented on these scibal notes before. I have often found them frustrating — more mysterious than helpful.

David-HarpBut, I don’t know of any compelling reason to suppose this wasn’t written by the historical David. The Hebrew is ambiguous, yes — but this does not mean someone else wrote it. David was remembered as a poet — among so many other things. What’s so strange in thinking that he wrote at least some of the Psalms! And, why not Psalm 25?

And, what’s wrong with this being a reflection of the faith experience of an individual person? What’s wrong with it being personal? Nothing.

We all experience life as individuals. We all need community. It’s not as if individualistic = bad and communal = good. Individualism can be bad — cutting ourselves off from others. Communal can be bad — as in the case of mob rule or group-think. We need the interplay of both to be healthy, self-differentiated people. Individual faith experience is essential. Communal faith experience is essential. Why play them off against each other, since both are needed?

Some people who are brought up in the church, and who enter into a personal experience of faith later in their lives, find the experience revolutionary. ‘Why didn’t someone tell me about this?’ But, lone wolf Christianity often gets off-track — it needs the corrections and insights of the community of faith. We need the community of faith. Lone-wolf Christians need to find a place for themselves in the church.

Wouldn’t it be better to see the Psalms as speaking to both the individual and the communal aspects of faith experience?

We need to find balance.

 

O God,
You are the creator of all things
and our life depends on You moment by moment.

We trust in You as we trust in no other.

You give us breath,
and we respond with songs of praise and hymns of adoration.

You give us truth
and we teach others Your word
and try to model Your ways.

You give us eternal life,
and we share the gospel of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, with all who will listen.

You fill us with Your Holy Spirit,
and we love others as You have loved us.

You call us Your friends,
and we seek to be friends with the friendless.

In all things we completely depend upon You.
Our own strength or wisdom is not enough.
Draw us closer to You.
Enable us to live more faithfully as followers of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In Whose Name we pray.
Amen.

 

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4 Responses to “The Individual and the Community – Psalm 25”

  1. What’s the source for the Hebrew alphabet poster (first picture in this article)? It’s beautiful.

    Thanks,

    –Bill

    Forest, VA

  2. […] psalmist (David?) is open and vulnerable before God — there is no pretense or denial. His guilt is great. […]

  3. […] some unknown reason, this verse deviates from the alphabetic pattern of the rest of the Psalm. This verse should begin with the letter ק but doesn’t. Adam Clarke remarks: “The word which […]

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