December 2, 2020

Psunday Psalms: An Alphabetic Drama

King David, Chagall

Psunday Psalms
Devotional Thoughts on the Psalms

* * *

I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart;
I will tell all your wonders
I will rejoice and exult in you
singing a hymn to Your name, O Most High.

But the LORD abides forever;
He has set up His throne for judgment;
it is He who judges the world with righteousness
rules the people with equity.
The LORD is a haven for the oppressed,
a haven in times of trouble.

The LORD is king forever and ever…

– Psalm 9:1-2, 8-10; 10:16, Tanakh (JPS)

* * *

Big Picture: Psalms 9-10 form one acrostic psalm [each stanza starting with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet], dramatizing the Lord’s reign over the powers that threaten the lowly.

From James L. Mays’s Psalms commentary (Interpretation):

Psalms 9 and 10 are together a song of the people of God who live in faith in the reign of God in the midst of the afflictions of history. Though the song is divided into two parts in Hebrew manuscripts and in most English versions, it appears as one psalm in the Septuagint and in translations dependent on it. A number of features unify the two. Together they compose an acrostic psalm; every second poetic line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Though the pattern of letters is broken in the middle of the alphabet, with some letters missing, it is nonetheless quite clear for most of the lines. There are also motifs and phrases common to the two, and a plan of composition for the whole.

…The comparison of the forms and themes and roles in Psalm 7, an individual prayer for help, with Psalms 9-10 will help one to see what is happening here. It is liturgical dramatization. The situation reflected in the composition is that of the postexilic congregation of the faithful whose life is beset and threatened by conditions and incidents caused by the succession of peoples who held power over them. The acrostic pattern is used, as it seems to be in all its appearances in the psalms, as a device of synthesis and comprehensiveness.

In the dual Psalm 9-10 we have an example of the creative writing and liturgical use of the psalms. The composer adapted genres of individual prayer and praise and linked them with congregational forms within the overall structure of the Hebrew alphabet. In so doing, Israel was blessed with a moving prayer for God to take up the cause of the lowly and bring about “a world determined by the justice of God’s reign” (Mays).

As we make our way through the Book of Psalms, we continue to see how the message of Psalm 2 is repeated and reinforced. The Lord is King and will rule through his Messiah; despite the current situation God’s people must endure and take refuge in God. And so we still pray today. “May your Kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as in heaven.”


  1. Thanks CM.