Things You May Not Know About PSALMS #1 – Structure

This is the first in a series of posts about the book of Psalms. These posts are written with the lay person in mind, and seek to share useful information about the book of Psalms (succinctly) that may not be readily apparent to the reader.

Let’s talk about structure; and by structure, I do not mean the structure of the entire book, but rather the structure of individual psalms. Hebrew poetry (of which Psalms is an example), “is structured around poetic lines of verse rather than around sentences and paragraphs.”[1] That is to say, Hebrew poetry has a different structure than that to which a 21st century western reader is accustomed.

The defining structural feature of Hebrew poetry is parallelism, which is the grouping of two or three lines or together to express one thought. In Psalm 92:6 we read:

Senseless people do not know,
Fools do not understand,

This two-line repetition used to express a single thought is common and has been called ‘synonymous parallelism.’[2]

Another type of parallelism is ‘developmental parallelism,’ in which the second line builds upon (or develops) the first line[3], as in Psalm 121:3:

He will not let your foot slip –
He who watches over you will not slumber.

Other types of parallelism include:

Illustrative – in which the second line gives an example (or illustrates) the first line, as in Psalm 140:7[4]

Contrastive – in which the second line is contrasted with the first line, as in Psalm 1:6[5]


*  The information in this post, referenced below, was mostly taken from Grasping God’s Word, which I highly recommend.


[1] Duvall & Hayes. Grasping God’s Word (pg. 349)
[2] Ibid. 350
[3] Ibid. 350-351
[4] Ibid. 351
[5] Ibid.

We weren’t Always this Uninformed

It is not difficult to be counted among the uninformed, politically or otherwise. It’s quite a passive endeavor, actually. And it appears that we, the American public, are less informed than ever (consider this). However, this has not always been so.

Here is Neil Postman, commenting on a debate between Lincoln and Douglas in 1854:

Douglas delivered a three-hour address to which Lincoln, by agreement, was to respond. When Lincoln’s turn came, he reminded the audience that it was already 5p.m., that he would require as much time as Douglas and that Douglas was still scheduled for a rebuttal. He proposed, therefore, that the audience go home, have dinner, and return refreshed for four more hours of talk. The audience amiably agreed, and matters proceeded as Lincoln had outlined. What kind of audience was this? Who were these people who could so cheerfully accommodate themselves to seven hours of oratory?
…These were people who regarded such events as essential to their political education, who took them to be an integral part of their social lives, and who were quite accustomed to extended oratorical performances.¹
¹Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Penguin, 1985) pp. 44-45

Trump can be Defeated…eventually

But it might be too late. That is, Trump may be defeated only after he secures enough delegates to become the Republican nominee. Consider the poll results below demonstrating low voter awareness on negative information about Trump:

Only 27 percent had heard about his reluctance to denounce David Duke and the KKK; 20 percent about Trump University and the fraud lawsuit; 13 percent about the failure of Trump Mortgage. (from here via here)

But according to Jonathan V. Last of The Weekly Standard, voters’ lack of information about Trump is only temporary:

…someone will spend a lot of money putting ads about them [Trump’s failings] all over television in battleground states. The only question is whether it will be conservatives or Hillary Clinton who expose voters to this information.

Read the whole article here.

Wisdom for Super Tuesday

Tim Keller (building on Al Wolters) on political idolatry:

Dutch-Canadian philosopher Al Wolters taught that in the biblical view of things, the main problem in life is sin, and the only solution is God and his grace. The alternative to this view is to identify something besides sin as the main problem with the world and something besides God as the main remedy. That demonizes something that is not completely bad, and makes and idol out of something that cannot be the ultimate good.
*Quotation from Counterfeit Gods

Touching on Schwager’s View of the Atonement

Peter Leithart wrote a short post on Schwager’s view of the atonement (which borrows from Girard’s work on mimetic desire). Leithart takes issue with Schwager’s assertion that grace and judgment are not “alternative possibilities within one single appeal;” the “appeal” being Jesus’s free offer of pure grace. Leithart notes that, “Jesus begins His ministry announcing judgment. He does issue an invitation to all to enter His Father’s kingdom and to join the feast, but that entry requires repentance.” Agreed. I’d like to say a bit more though. Here’s a lengthier section of Schwager:

Whereas the preaching of the prophets contains an alternative (‘if you repent, you will find grace; if not, the judgment will be upon you’), the message of Jesus initially disregards the readiness to repent or the hard heartedness of the sinner and consequently at this level excludes the alternative ‘of rejection for not repenting.’ Preceding, and at first independent of, the actual human decision, it offers to oppressed humankind the pure mercy of God. If, nevertheless, it is a call to decision…, then the pure offer of grace must be clearly distinguished from an arbitrary offer. It does not presuppose conversion, but wants to awaken it, and where the offer of pure grace is rejected a person falls prey to all the consequences of his or her own decision. With Jesus, grace and judgment are not two alternative possibilities within one single appeal; the predominance of grace is shown by the fact that the offer of grace takes place in advance of human choice. The problematic of judgment, on the contrary, emerges from the other side, from the human decision actually made. In the framework of the message of Jesus, the judgment sayings can therefore be taken seriously – without any weakening of the salvation sayings – only if they are related to a second situation of proclamation, which is distinguished from the first by the human rejection of the offer of salvation that is given without prerequisites. The two situations are … opposed to each other not as offer and refusal of the offer. The transition to the second situation is not made by Jesus, but it results from the reaction of his hearers. Jesus only makes clear the theological consequences of their decision. (pp. 55-56) [online source here]

In short, Schwager is suggesting declaring – logically & sequentially, mind you – that Jesus’s proclamation of grace was prior to Jesus’s proclamation of judgment, and that his proclamation of judgment was only in response to the peoples’ rejection of his offer of grace.

First, I’m not sure how this can be known, certainly not to the extent that leads to an assertion. But more importantly, Schwager’s motivation for advancing this view should be called into question. On the face of it, this appears to be an attempt to get Jesus off the hook for pronouncing judgment apart from (and prior to) a rejection of grace. Schwager stops short of suggesting that Jesus cannot pronounce judgment until and unless his grace has been rejected, but this view has nonetheless been inferred by emerging church types, some of whom consider themselves ‘Girardian.’ The dichotomy between these two proclamations of Jesus (grace and judgment) is at least partly semantic, making disparate something which was intended to be straightforward. As Leithart noted in his post, “Even before Jesus, John says that the axe is already laid at the foot of the tree.”

Today, Any Word can be a Verb

Most individuals, I suspect, don’t think much about the use of ordinary language; of cliches, colloquialisms, neologisms, buzzwords (which is a newer word itself), and the like. But even more so, we tend not to think about verbs which were once nouns; words which previously did not convey action whatsoever, but now have multiple parts of speech depending on their usage. Well, now you can think about it, because Anthony Gardner has written an informative, fascinating article titled, “You’ve been verbed.”

John Winthrop on Moral Liberty

From Winthrop‘s “little speech” on liberty:

For the other point concerning liberty, I observe a great mistake in the country about that. There is a twofold liberty, natural (I mean as our nature is now corrupt) and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as well as to good. This liberty is incompatible and inconsistent with authority and cannot endure the least restraint of the most just authority. The exercise and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil and in time to be worse than brute beasts: omnes sumus licentia deteriores. This is that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all of the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it. The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal; it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions amongst men themselves. This liberty is the proper end and object of authority and cannot subsist without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest. This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard (not only of your goods, but) of your lives, if need be. Whatsoever crosseth this is not authority but a distemper thereof. This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is of the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.