July 7, 2002 -- SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST -- Proper 9
Psalm 145:8-15 (Psalm 145:8-14 NRSV)
This is an alphabetic, each succeeding verse begins with the subsequent letter of the alphabet, song of praise. Verse thirteen, has the “m” and “n” lines “ in one verse, “N” is missing from the Hebrew text but supplied from a Qumran scroll and the Greek and Syriac translations; thus giving the psalm 21 verses instead of 22, the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Because it is alphabetic and contains words used only in late Hebrew, Aramaic words, we know that it is of relatively late composition, postexilic, even among the last psalms to be composed.
The singer is an individual. If sung in the liturgy, like the great autumnal Feast of Tabernacles, the individual would be representative of the community. If sung or prayed privately, which it undoubtedly was, it would unite the individual to all creation in his or her praise of God and his good deeds. This psalm is recited three times daily in the synagogues, morning, noon and night. Verse two, was incorporated into the Christian hymn, Te Deum, and verses ten, fifteen and sixteen, were used in monastic and religious communities for grace before meals. Given its acrostic format there is, understandably, no development of plot or building of intensity. Each verse is a complete statement in itself, to be easily memorized and recalled throughout a typical day. There are lots of formula prayers and credal statements in this psalm, which can be found in or have been taken from other psalms. If it were not for the control of the alphabet, each statement could be rearranged without damage to the thought or sense. Yet, this psalm is carefully crafted, the result of a learned and gifted artist’s work, even though it is not great or high poetry. Any Hebrew could memorize and pray this prayer, with or without benefit of formal education.
Each line either calls to praise or gives the reason for praise and like its structure praises God for everything from Aleph to Tav, or, as we would say, A to Z. Typical of prayers of praise and thanks the psalmist first exhorts himself to praise, then expands his circle until he is exhorting everything and everybody to join in as he gives reason after reason for doing so. His individual praise is inadequate to the task. In the Psalter this psalm is set as a fitting conclusion to the final, small collection of Davidic Psalms 138-145 and as a preface to the final collection of psalms of praise 146-150.
In verses one to three, my God and king: The psalmist exhorts himself to become conscious of God’s presence under the image of “king.” He is impressed, awe-struck, by God’s grandeur. The full extent of his greatness is beyond human comprehension.
In verses four to seven, one generation…to the next: He is impressed by God’s longevity. Although he is most probably referring to Israelite generations and has in mind the great deeds God did for them, he leaves it vague enough and open enough to include all human generations from all time. He is impressed with the continuity of praise, recognition of God’s kingship, throughout time.