The 4th book of Psalms
One teaching method used by Jesus in his ministry is the chiasm, a series of statements that are then repeated and developed in reverse order. An early one comes in Genesis 9:6 in the ESV because unlike the KJV and others it follows the word order of the Hebrew text. Letters A, B and C are used for the statements, and C’, B’ and A’ for the development:
(A) Whoever sheds
(B) the blood
(C) of man
(C’) by man
(B’) shall his blood
(A’) be shed
Jesus used this device in the parable of the workers in the vinyard. The words, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” in Matthew 19:30 is repeated in reverse at the end in 20:16, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” In between the master goes out to hire workers, then again on the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour and finally at the eleventh hour, he pays them in reverse order.
What has this to do with Psalm 106? You’ve guessed it, Psalm 106 is a chiasm, or rather two, one inside the other.
The 4th book of Psalms, those 17 religious songs between psalms 90 and 106, have a theme, God is above us.
The layout is like this:
Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.
Book 4 answers the questions of Books 1-3 with the message that God is king.
Give Thanks to the Lord, for He Is Good
1 Praise the Lord!
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever!
2 Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord,
or declare all his praise?
3 Blessed are they who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times!
4 Remember me, O Lord, when you show favour to your people;
help me when you save them,
5 that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation,
that I may glory with your inheritance.
6 Both we and our fathers have sinned;
we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.
7 Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power.
9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry,
and he led them through the deep as through a desert.
10 So he saved them from the hand of the foe
and redeemed them from the power of the enemy.
11 And the waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them was left.
12 Then they believed his words;
they sang his praise.
13 But they soon forgot his works;
they did not wait for his counsel.
14 But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness,
and put God to the test in the desert;
15 he gave them what they asked,
but sent a wasting disease among them.
16 When men in the camp were jealous of Moses
and Aaron, the holy one of the Lord,
17 the earth opened and swallowed up Dathan,
and covered the company of Abiram.
18 Fire also broke out in their company;
the flame burned up the wicked.
19 They made a calf in Horeb
and worshipped a metal image.
20 They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21 They forgot God, their Saviour,
who had done great things in Egypt,
22 wondrous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
24 Then they despised the pleasant land,
having no faith in his promise.
25 They murmured in their tents,
and did not obey the voice of the Lord.
26 Therefore he raised his hand and swore to them
that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
27 and would make their offspring fall among the nations,
scattering them among the lands.
28 Then they yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor,
and ate sacrifices offered to the dead;
29 they provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.
30 Then Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was stayed.
31 And that was counted to him as righteousness
from generation to generation for ever.
32 They angered him at the waters of Meribah,
and it went ill with Moses on their account,
33 for they made his spirit bitter,
and he spoke rashly with his lips.
34 They did not destroy the peoples,
as the Lord commanded them,
35 but they mixed with the nations
and learned to do as they did.
36 They served their idols,
which became a snare to them.
37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to the demons;
38 they poured out innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was polluted with blood.
39 Thus they became unclean by their acts,
and played the whore in their deeds.
40 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
and he abhorred his heritage;
41 he gave them into the hand of the nations,
so that those who hated them ruled over them.
42 Their enemies oppressed them,
and they were brought into subjection under their power.
43 Many times he delivered them,
but they were rebellious in their purposes
and were brought low through their iniquity.
44 Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress,
when he heard their cry.
45 For their sake he remembered his covenant,
and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
46 He caused them to be pitied
by all those who held them captive.
47 Save us, O Lord our God,
and gather us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.
48 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
And let all the people say, “Amen!”
Praise the Lord!Psalm 106 ESV UK – I have used the paragraphs to show the psalm’s structure
It’s another long one I’m afraid.
I love poetic structure. I was aware of the acrostic nature of some of the Psalms such as Psalm 119 and the Lamentations, but this is a new one on me. I have never come across chiasm in scripture before. This then is very much me thinking straight to the page then editing a bit.
Psalms 105 and 106 are partners. Both use the history of Israel to make a new point. Psalm 105 used logical forms of exegesis and allusion, Psalm 106 is more poetic. Here’s the structure. There is no need to memorise it, just remember that as it returns to the first point it will be making a radical new point:
- A – Call for praise and thanks (verses 1-5)
- B – Rescued from their enemies (6-12)
- C – Disobedience in the desert (13-15)
- D – Rebellion against Moses (16-18)
- E – Intercession by Moses (19-23)
- F – Refusal of the Promised Land (24-27)
- E’ – Intercession by Phinehas (28-31)
- D’ – Provocation of Moses (32-33)
- C’ – Disobedience in the taking of the land (34-40)
- B’ – Turned over to their enemies (41-46)
- A’ – Doxology (47-48)
Now that you’ve seen the structure, read it again, I have provided the paragraphs to bring out the structure in the passage above.
But there’s more. Thanks to reading Rabbinic commentaries when preparing I have discovered a second level of chiasm. (By discovered I mean new to me, it has been known for thousands of years), Verses 34-40 have this structure too. Here are key Hebrew words that give the structure.
- A – Yahweh (34)
- B – their deeds (35)
- C – idols (36)
- D – they sacrificed (37)
- E – sons and daughters (37)
- F – blood (38)
- F’ – blood (38)
- E’ – sons and daughters (38)
- D’ – sacrificed (38)
- C’ – idols (38)
- B’ – their deeds (39)
- A’ – Yahweh (40)
In only a few words, It’s much shorter in Hebrew, the story of how the Israelites became more and more like the people they were supposed to replace in the land, but instead of that they became identical to the Canaanites whom they were supposed to replace. But that is not the point if this part of the psalm, it starts and ends with Yahweh, God. They were supposed to follow God and worship God but instead became like the people because you become what you worship. They were turned over to their enemies because they had become like them.
You become what you worship, if it isn’t God then what is it? That is the message of the poem within the poem. What is the answer to having become like the other nation and become abandoned by God? The answer is, “Let’s have another Exodus.” At the time this psalm was published this was physical. The exiles in Babylon had begun to return to Jerusalem. “Save us, O Lord our God and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.” verse 47.
What does it mean now? How can Christians react to this psalm? The way is to listen to how the Holy Spirit interpreta it to you, but what I am hearing is the phrase, “Let’s have another Exodus.” The Jews had one Exodus our of Egypt, but kept taking on the culture of Canaan over and over again, yet God heard and rescued them over again until such time as they needed a second a second Exodus, this time out of Babylon.
If you have messed up as an individual God wants to give you a second Exodus, a new start.
If your church has messed up God wants to give you a second Exodus, a new start.
If your country has messed up God wants to give you, the people of that country, a second Exodus, a new start.
If you have already had your new start do not worry, God wants to give you a third Exodus, and a fourth.
Peter once asked Jesus if he should forgive someone seven times. Jesus said no, seventy times seven, revealing what God’s forgiveness is like. If you come to God he will forgive you a second time, and a third, and a seventh, and a 490th, and still go on forgiving beyond that, if you repent, turn your back on the things you did. Why don’t you do that now?
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