Note: Psalm 37 is an alphabetic acrostic Psalm. All the letters of the Hebrew alphabet contribute except for the 16th letter ע. Ronald Benun (http://www.jhsonline.org/Articles/article_55.htm) points out that for each letter there are usually two verses, with the second verse not commencing with the particular letter. However, he says, “the letters ד, כ, and ק each have only one primary verse and are lacking any attached verses. Even more curious is v 29 … [which] is out of place, not connected to any letter of the alphabet, but at the same time just happens to occur right where we expect the ע verse. It seems that this verse is a kind of substitute for the primary ע verse even though it begins with the wrong letter.” He argues that this substitution – and therefore the break in the acrostic pattern – is quite deliberate. He points out that if we ignore verse 29 then there is a chiastic pattern based on the number of acrostic letters in each section: 3-1-6-1-6-1-3.
A – אבג (two verses per letter)
B – ד (one verse)
C – הוזחטי (two verses per letter)
D – כ (one verse)
C’ – למנספצ (two verses per letter)
B’ – ק (one verse)
A’ – רשת (two verses per letter)
Furthermore, there is a remarkable symmetry in the word count in each section.
A 42 words for 3 letters
B 11 words for 1 letter
C 88 words for 6 letters
D 10 words for 1 letter
C 88 words for 6 letters
B 11 words for 1 letter
A 41 words for 3 letters
The article quoted above goes into much more detail and suggests other numeric features. This basic pattern is hard to dismiss as chance, and we are left to ponder why the letter which is also the Hebrew word for “eye” is omitted. And how does it relate to the thought pattern of the Psalm? This is where we find some real challenges. Several have proposed chiastic structures for the Psalm, notably Robert Alden (https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/17/17-1/17-1-pp011-028_JETS.pdf), But these do not square with the numeric pattern.
I have reviewed Alden’s proposal and our previous post. Using some but not all of the frequent occurrences of “wicked” and righteous” seems to me to be too subjective. The following is based on trying to follow the sense of the Psalm, as well as trying to respect the acrostic pattern.
A PSALM OF DAVID.
A v1-11: Don’t fret, the wicked will be like grass, trust in YHWH.
Verses 1-9 form a reasonable chiasm but we have to link the solitary verse 7 with the following pair of verses. Verse 10 and 11 seem to me to be a summary of outcomes.
a. 1 Fret not thyself because of evildoers,
neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.
2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
and wither as the green herb.
b. 3 Trust (batah) in the LORD, and do good;
so shalt thou dwell in the land,
and verily thou shalt be fed.
4 Delight thyself also in the LORD;
and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
b’. 5 Commit thy way unto the LORD;
trust (batah) also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light,
and thy judgment as the noonday.
a’. 7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him:
fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way,
because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.
8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath:
fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.
9 For evildoers shall be cut off:
but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.
10 For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be:
yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.
11 But the meek shall inherit the earth;
and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
B. vv12-15 the wicked plot against the righteous
a. 12 The wicked plotteth against the just,
and gnasheth upon him with his teeth.
b. 13 The Lord shall laugh at him:
for he seeth that his day is coming.
a’. 14 The wicked have drawn out the sword,
and have bent their bow,
to cast down the poor and needy,
and to slay such as be of upright conversation.
b’. 15 Their sword shall enter into their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
C. vv16-20 YHWH will uphold the righteous
Verse 20 is the central verse of the Psalm and for some it is the centre of a grand chiasm for the whole Psalm. It has no accompanying verse and no comparison is made with the righteous and it thereby stands out as different. However, the opening “but” links it closely with the preceding verse to give it a separate section. Verse 17 “upholdeth” links to verse 24, and verse 18 – the promise of food in famine ties with v25.
a.16 A little that a righteous man hath
b. is better than the riches of many wicked.
b’. 17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken:
a’. but the LORD upholdeth the righteous.
a. 18 The LORD knoweth the days of the upright:
b. and their inheritance shall be for ever.
b’. 19 They shall not be ashamed in the evil time:
a’. and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.
20 But the wicked shall perish,
and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs:
they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.
C’. vv21-26 YHWH upholds the merciful
This section is a neat chiasm based on four repeated key words. Verse 24 like verse 17 says that YHWH “upholds” his people.
a. 21 The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again:
but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.
22 For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth;
and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.
b. 23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD:
and he delighteth in his way.
b’. 24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down:
for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.
a’. 25 I have been young, and now am old;
yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken,
nor his seed begging bread.
26 He is ever merciful, and lendeth;
and his seed is blessed.
B’. vv 27-33 Righteousness even under threat from the wicked.
a. 27 Depart from evil, and do good;
and dwell for evermore.
28 For the LORD loveth judgment,
and forsaketh not his saints;
they are preserved for ever:
but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.
b. 29 The righteous shall inherit the land,
and dwell therein for ever.
a’. 30 The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom,
and his tongue talketh of judgment.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
none of his steps shall slide.
32 The wicked watcheth the righteous,
and seeketh to slay him.
33 The LORD will not leave him in his hand,
nor condemn him when he is judged.
A’. vv34- 40 Wait on YHWH and trust in Him
This section returns to the need to be patient and trust in God. The wicked prospers like a tree, but will be cut down like grass (v2). The section re-emphasises the ultimate outcome.
a. 34 Wait on the LORD, and keep his way,
and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land:
when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.
b. 35 I have seen the wicked in great power,
and spreading himself like a green bay tree.
36 Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not:
yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.
a’. 37 Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright:
for the end of that man is peace.
38 But the transgressors shall be destroyed together:
the end of the wicked shall be cut off.
b’. 39 But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD:
he is their strength in the time of trouble.
40 And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them:
he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them,
because they trust (hasa) in him.
One thought on “Psalm 37*”
The 16th letter of the Hebrew alphabet is intentionally omitted, but is not omitted, because it is located right where it should be, between the 15th and 17th letters, but it does not begin a verse, it is found in the word forsake. That sentence is the middle sentence of the psalm. Not the middle by counting words, or letters, or verses, but by counting lines, which are determined by matching words on either side of the center. In Psalm 37, those words are children and forever in the first layer, inherit the land in the second and fifth layers. If anyone wants to see Psalm 37 broken down into its lines, email me at [email protected]. Every psalm is broken down into lines, and therefore every psalm has a center which is prominent.