The psalms of grievance in the Hebrew Bible, not to mention the book of Job, are shot through with the felt need for God's justification. Justification, that is, in the sense of vindication before one's peers, in the court of history, and/or in the court of ultimate truth. At stake is an active principle of justice deity is expected to uphold and bring to bear on specific situations. The psalms of grievance, the protests of Job and prophets like Habakkuk and Jeremiah, speak from the point of view of an innocent sufferer and construe matters in precisely this way: when justice is done, salvation has come.
A glaring false step of popularized versions of the NPP (New Perspective on Paul) is that of declaring legal metaphors applied to the relationship of God with individuals and nations “dead on arrival.” The move rips the heart out of the faith of Israel, not to mention that of the early Christians and that of the faith that finds expression in the Jewish sages. All three faiths think through theology and ethics by means of concepts drawn from the realm of law, crime, and punishment. God’s justice (or the lack thereof) and the response that justice (or lack thereof) calls forth from those who acknowledge it are central to all three faiths.
Since almost everyone lawyers up in so-called First World nations, and the systems of justice of said countries are irreparably broken on multiple levels, it is not surprising that many shudder at thinking of one's journey through life through the prisms of law, crime, and punishment. On the other hand, it is impossible to know oneself to be wronged or to be in the right without recourse to such concepts. The concepts of vindication, redress, and desert will continue to shape our self-understanding no matter how deeply the concepts are betrayed in the political and religious dimensions.
In Psalm 145, the chief delight of man is to sing God’s justice. God’s justice is instantiated in the prowess of his feats of salvation. God’s justice is all about salvation: that was the great discovery of Luther as he pored over the Psalms after he became a professor of Bible in the hicktown of Wittemburg and as he re-read Romans and Galatians in that light.
When God saves, it is always about the falling of many, not just the raising up of many. That is why God's saving deeds are described as strong and fearsome. A time of salvation is always a time of judgment, of sifting and winnowing.
In this section, a rare split dyad frames a second dyad: vv 4 and 7 form a dyad; vv 5-6 another. 8 verbs of elocution; 8 objects of praise; 8 second person singular suffixes thereto align. One generation sings God’s praises to the next, the psalmist takes it on himself to do the same. It is typical of ancient and modern translation technique to replace concrete expressions with abstractions. I do the opposite in v 6, replacing “strength” with “fist.”
With Jan Fokkelman (The Psalms in Form: The Hebrew Psalter in its Poetic Shape [Leiden: Deo, 2002] 172), I would speculate that 145:5 originally read as follows:
In that case, after an initial full half-line, 145:4-7 would offer a string of 7 end-paused apocopate half-lines, with the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th half-line having a double-footed long word in onset position.
The vertical parallelisms of this set of verses are noteworthy. The first set exemplifies Panini’s law – the tendency of sequences to move from simple to more complex: “salt and pepper,” not “pepper and salt.” The elements of the second set are phonological and prosodic equivalents, with the last element only, “your justice,” sticking out like a cherry on top of a root beer float.
the splendor of your glory
the fist of your fearsome deeds
the fame of the greatness of your goodness
your powerful acts
your wondrous acts
your great acts
Posts on Psalm 145