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Psalm 17

Parsed by Chris Wooldridge  |  Notes by Chris Wooldridge and Michael Bull

We no longer possess the music for the Psalms,1Unless, as Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura proposes, the tunes are included as notations in the Hebrew text. but the allusions and recapitulations employed by the psalmists remain veiled to us without an awareness of the “tune of ideas” they present to us. Psalm 17 is another wonderful example of the outcome of meditation on the Torah by the authors of the wisdom literature. Familiarity with the historical and literary structures of the books of Moses is the key to comprehension of the books of wisdom.

A hyphenated-word-block indicates a single Hebrew word, with each Hebrew word being | separated | by a line and double spacing on each side.

Psalm 17

TRANSCENDENCE

Creation (Ark of the Testimony)

A-prayer (Transcendence – Creation)
of-David. (Hierarchy – Division)
Hear, | Yahweh, | of-justice. (Ethics 1 – Ascension)
Attend | to-my-cry; (Ethics 2 – Testing)
Give-ear | to-my-prayer | not | from-lips | of-deceit. (Ethics 3 – Maturity)
From-Your-face | let-my-judgment | come-forth; (Oath/Sanctions – Conquest)
Let-Your-eyes | behold | with-equity. (Succession – Glorification)
  • This first stanza is David’s cry to Yahweh. The Ethics section is threefold: the word given, opened and received, so the Stanza is sevenfold, a “new creation.”2For more discussion, see Reading the Bible in 3D and Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key.
  • David places his prayer at Maturity to emphasise that it ascends from clean lips, not “feigned” ones, since the Lord does not accept prayer from those whose confession is only lip service. The allusion is to the serpent in the Garden, with David as a faithful Adam who does not hide but instead calls upon the Lord to judge him.
  • The author is fully aware of the nature of Covenant, beginning with delegation and Oath, and ending for the faithful with vindication and blessing at Sanctions. Faithful obedience as a servant results in the understanding and friendship of the confidant, which is often pictured in Scripture as “seeing the Lord’s face” (John 15;15; James 2:23). As it was for Adam, so it was for David, yet David presents himself as a faithful delegate.
  • At Succession, the Lord is the all-seeing judge, the one whose glory fills the Sanctuary as the sign of a blessed future bestowed upon the faithful.

HIERARCHY

Division (Veil)

You-have-tried | my-heart, (Sabbath)
You-have-visited-me | in-the-night; (Passover)
You-have-tested-me | and-nothing | You-shall-find. (Firstfruits – Land)
I-am-purposed | not | to-transgress | with-my-mouth. (Firstfruits – Womb)
As-for-the-deeds | of-men, (Pentecost)
By-the-word | of-Your-lips (Trumpets)
I | am-kept | from-the-paths | of-the-destroyer. (Atonement)
Keep | my-steps | in-Your-ways, | so-that-will-not | slip | my-footsteps. (Booths)
  • At Hierarchy, the focus moves from the Lord’s righteousness to the blamelessness of David, and David’s allusions move from the Garden Sanctuary of Genesis to the Passover of Exodus.
  • At the first Passover, Yahweh visited the Hebrews at night, so Yahweh visits David “at night” in the second line.
  • At Firstfruits, as on Day 3, the Land and its fruits are split at lines 3 and 4, which allows David to be both the house passed over and also the blameless, silent lamb, the suffering servant constrained to speak only the words of God.
  • Sin’s deceits are exposed by the Spirit at Pentecost, the centre of the now opened Ethics of the Covenant.
  • The words of the Lord Himself are the words of the prophet at Trumpets, and by them David is kept safe at Atonement, delivered from evil as the firstborn was preserved from the sword of the destroyer.
  • The final line of this stanza speaks of Representation, an Adam who images God and is thus qualified to rule: Where the Lord was the judge between light and darkness in the first stanza (Transcendence), the meek saint is now wise concerning light and darkness (Hierarchy). He walks safely in the darkness of the veil through the light of the law. The obedient man himself is God-in-flesh, a sacrificial mediator waiting to be “opened” like a scroll. Fittingly, the final line itself also follows the Covenant pattern.
Keep (T)
My-steps (H)
In-Your-ways, (E)
So-that-will-not | slip (O)
My-footsteps. (S)

ETHICS

Ascension (Bronze Altar and Golden Table)

I | have-called-out, (Transcendence)
For | You-will-answer | O-God. (Hierarchy)
Incline | Your-ear | to-me | and-hear | my-word. (Ethics)
Show-Your-special | covenant-loyalty, (Oath/Sanctions)
Saviour | of-them-seeking-refuge | from-those-who-rise-up | at-Your-right-hand. (Succession)
  • This short stanza is a cry to Yahweh for protection from His enemies. But it is a call made with the authority of a man “under authority.”
  • The first line now focusses on man rather than God as the representative of the Covenant.
  • The second line is a statement of faith that God will answer, because David is blameless before Him.
  • At Ethics, David, as a beloved son and now master of Israel, speaks of his own word as though it were a command of Yahweh Himself.
  • At Oath/Sanctions, David uses only two Hebrew words but they express both the Oath and the Sanctions. The first is palah, meaning special or distinct, but carrying the idea of separated or set apart, alluding to the process of division between the faithful and faithless for blessing and cursing. The second is chesed, which refers to God’s covenant loyalty (by oath), especially to His people, Israel.
  • At Succession/Booths, the righteous find refuge in Yahweh, shelter from enemies who stand, self-styled (Altar) and self-exalted (Table), as accusers against God’s anointed.
  • Of course, with hindsight, we now know that this stanza refers to the ascension of Christ as king at the right hand of the Father.

Testing (Lampstand)

Keep-me | as-the-apple | daughter | of-Your-eye; (Genesis)
Under-the-shadow | of-Your-wings, | hide-me. (Exodus)
From | the-wicked | who | lay waste, (Leviticus)
Enemies | deadly | who-surround | me. (Numbers)
  • The structure now moves from the “Levitical” priestly head to the Covenant Body. In four simple lines, David takes Israel from the Garden of Eden to the wilderness.
  • This might explain the unique and untranslated use of the word “daughter” in line 1. Adam was the keeper of the Garden, and Eve was to be the focus of his protection, the “pupil” of his eye. Instead, at Testing, Eve’s eye was allowed to be drawn to the forbidden fruit of kingdom. Their eyes were opened, and they understood the serpent’s light had in truth been darkness.
  • Following the allusion to Genesis comes a reference to Exodus, a plea for Israel to remember what she had seen with her own eyes: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (19:4).
  • The Levitical allusion is more obscure, and thus only discernible in context. Laying waste or despoiling refers to cities and the Land, which fits line 3 as Day 3. But this word for wicked, which means guilty or criminal, appears in every book of the Torah except Leviticus. Based on a recurring biblical pattern of “false ascensions” beginning with Cain, this might refer to the usurping of priesthood by lawless kings who refused to submit to God.
  • As is common, the Testing stanza is only a “three-and-a-half,” like the ministry of Christ, who Himself was surrounded by beasts in the wilderness, both animal and then human. Unlike the children of Israel in Numbers who face fiery serpents and the deceit of Balak and Balaam, both David and Christ were kings whose enemies were beastly Israelites. Christ called the Pharisees a brood of snakes, and Peter, Jude and Revelation use Balaam to describe Israel’s first century false prophets.

Maturity (Incense Altar)

In-their-own-fat | they-are-enclosed, (Booths – Day 7)
With-their-mouth | they-speak | proudly, (Atonement – Day 6)
In-our-steps | they-have-surrounded-us. (Trumpets – Day 5)
Their-eyes | they-have-set (Pentecost – Day 4)
To | cast-us-down | to-the-land, (Firstfruits – Day 3)
Like | a-lion | that-is-eager | to-tear (Passover – Day 2)
And-a-lion-cub | dwelling | in-hiding. (Sabbath – Day 1)
  • As observed in a number of other passages, the Maturity stanza runs the festal pattern backwards. In those instances, it seemed to be an expression of the reversal of death. In this case, however, the purpose seems to be the silence of the people of God through false “prophetic” witness.
  • The stanza is thus a “de-Creation,” beginning with men as gods (line 1), speaking their false oaths when they should be silent (line 2), gathering themselves against God’s anointed as godless hosts instead of waiting upon him (line 3). The remainder of the stanza paints these judges (and their offspring) as devouring beasts rather than the shepherds they were supposed to be. The fact that these beasts are in the Land (Leviticus 26:22) is a precursor to the ministry of the true prophets (2 Kings 2:23-24).

OATH/SANCTIONS

Conquest (High Priest and Sacrifices – Mediators)

Arise, | Yahweh! (Creation)
Disappoint | him | and-cast-him-down. (Division)
Deliver | my-life | from-the-wicked | by-Your-sword, (Ascension – Altar)
From-men | by-Your-hand. (Ascension – Table)
Yahweh, | these-men | of-the-world | with-their-portion | in-this-life, (Testing – Lampstand)
With-hidden-treasure | You | fill-them, (Maturity)
Their-belly | is-full | of-children; (Sanctions)
They-leave | the-rest | to-their-babies. (Succession)
  • At Conquest/Atonement, David calls on the Lord to pour out His curses on the unfaithful. As on the Day of Atonement, there are two approaches, the first for the priesthood, and the second for the people. Here, it is instead these false kings and their heirs.
  • The process begins with the Lord as light in the darkness (line 1), with the self-styled kings cut off as “leaven” (line 2).
  • At Ascension, it is now those who avoided priestly submission and substitutionary sacrifice who are themselves the meat on the altar and the table, in “the path of the destroyer.”
  • The central line is the Covenant pattern in miniature, a description of those who believe the lies of the evil one at Testing:
Yahweh, (T)
these-men (H)
of-the-world, (E)
with-their-portion (O)
in-this-life… (S)
  • Although the promises to David centred upon a continued dynasty, a legacy in offspring, David looks beyond that to a greater throne, just as Abraham saw in the promise of Canaan a taste of the heavenly country. He condemns those who see children as the source of Covenant Succession rather than merely an outcome. As in Eden, God desires first the fruits of righteousness. The fruit of the womb and the Land are secondary blessings which follow. The shift from the emphasis on “Land and womb” in circumcision to the repentance of New Covenant baptism is an expression of this fact, which is why baptism occurs at the Oath/Sanctions step in many New Testament passages. The children born of the will of men (earthly fathers, including Abraham) are not the children born by the Spirit of God (John 1:13; 3:6). The sons of heaven are the fathers on earth.

SUCCESSION

Glorification (Shekinah – Rest)

As-for-me, (Transcendence)
In-righteousness (Hierarchy)
I-shall-behold | Your-face. (Ethics)
I-shall-be-satisfied, (Sanctions)
When-I-awake | with-Your-likeness. (Succession)

In the final stanza, David reminds himself of the future promised to those who love and obey God. The light of the law gives way to beholding the face of Yahweh as a righteous Adam, made complete in the likeness of God.

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Chris and I are  working together on parsing the first book of Psalms and hope to have it published some time this year.

References   [ + ]

1. Unless, as Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura proposes, the tunes are included as notations in the Hebrew text.
2. For more discussion, see Reading the Bible in 3D and Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key.

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