Psalm 3 and How We Do Psalm Study

Dear Reader,

I posted once before on Psalm 3, but that was my individual study. This week the kids and I studied it in homeschool. I started by giving them each a copy of my translation of the psalm. I like to use my own translations because I can and because I want to make sure the translation is as good for our purposes as it can be. What I consider good is a pretty literal translation that is in decent English (a really literal translation could end up being poor to unintelligible English). I like to lay out the lines in such a way as to try and capture the parallelism of the original Hebrew. Sometimes this means maintaining the Hebrew word order as well though it might not be how we naturally say things in English. One of my biggest considerations is to be consistent within a given psalm in how I translate a particular word. If the same word is used twice in Hebrew, I want that to be obvious in my translation. Conversely, if a similar but different word is used (for example “adversary” and “enemy”) I will try to also vary my word choice in English. Of course not everyone is able to translate the Hebrew themselves, but if you want to try analyzing biblical poetry in this way, I invite you to use my translations as your starting point. Please drop me a note and let me know if you do and also let me know what conclusions you reach!

After handing each child their own copy of the psalm, I read it aloud to them. This is mainly for the sake of the little ones. But even for the older ones I think it is nice to start my hearing the whole psalm, aloud as it was no doubt meant to be read (or sung). Then I give them some general instructions, reminders of what to look for. For example. parallel words or ideas, repeated words, contrasts, anything that stands out to them. Then I give them crayons or colored pencils and let them have at it. If they see any things that go together, they color them the same color. After a period of time (maybe 10 minutes), we take turns sharing our observations and discussing them. I try to draw their attention to the meaning behind the poetic devices. For example, if two lines are parallel, are they exact parallels? Are there additions? Repeated elements? Why does the psalmist choose the words he does? What is he emphasizing?

Here now is my translation of Psalm 3:

LORD, how many are my adversaries; many [are] those who rise against me.

Many [are] those who say to my soul,”There is no salvation for him in God.”

But You, LORD, [are] a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.

[With] my voice unto the LORD I will cry; and He will answer me from His holy hill.

As for me, I lay down and slept and woke for the LORD sustains me.

I will not fear myriads of people who surrounding set [themselves] against me.

Arise, LORD; Save me, my God.

For You strike all my enemies [on the] cheek; the teeth of the wicked You break.

To the LORD [belongs] salvation; upon Your people [is] Your blessing.

The words in brackets are not in the Hebrew but are necessary to make sense in English. The use of “LORD” is all caps indicates that the Hebrew has the divine name (YHWH; sometimes translated as Yahweh or Jehovah).

I think all the kids noticed that “LORD” occurs a lot, six times in fact. “God” occurs only twice. We talked about how this is God’s proper name. It is unique to Him whereas other foreign gods could also be called “god.” It shows that the psalmist has a relationship with the Lord in the same way that my calling a person by their first name shows that we are friendly.

Another thing that stood out right away is the use of the word “many.” It occurs three times in the first two lines. The first occurrence is a verbal form and may be translated in some places as “increased” but I wanted the kids to hear the repetition of the word in English. In the sixth line “myriads” is often translated “ten thousands.” Hebrew if often vague this way with numbers. I felt myriads captured that vagueness. It is also a very similar word to the “many”s in the earlier lines though. I didn’t know how to translate this to make that obvious (“I will not fear manies of people”?) so I just explained it to the kids as we worked through the psalm. My older daughter actually picked up on the fact that this sixth line seems to hearken back to the first two lines. In both cases the subject is the multitude of enemies.

In the first two lines, we talked about why the psalmist uses this word “many” so often. The picture I get is of someone in distress looking around himself at all his problems and just saying “many, many, many.” He can’t get much beyond that. He is overwhelmed with his problems.

By line 6, though, something different has happened. He is still talking about the many but now there is something else: “I will not fear.” Something has happened in the meantime and he is starting to not be so overwhelmed though the “many” is still there.

And what has happened? Look at line 3. In lines 1 and 2 we see three repetitions of the psalmist’s troubles. But in line 3 we see three things that God is to him: a shield, his glory, and the one who lifts his head. For each repetition of the problem there is a corresponding attribute of God to counteract it.

A related point that stood out to me is what each player in the psalm does. Look at what the psalmist himself does: he cries, lays down, sleep, and wakes up. That is about it. He does no more than a baby could. What does God do? He answers, sustains, arises, saves, strikes and breaks. He is very active.

Finally we look at another repeated word “salvation” or “saves.” It is the charge the psalmist’s enemies make against him at the beginning: that his god cannot save. In the middle of the psalm he cries out “save me, my God.” These are the only two places “God” is used and not “LORD.” Then finally at the end of the psalm there is confidence: “To the LORD [belongs] salvation.” It is his God (and ours) the one with whom he has that personal relationship for whom salvation is possible.

And that’s what we got out of Psalm 3. There are no right answers in this sort of study. Everyone may see different things. I’d love to hear about what you see.

Nebby

8 responses to this post.

  1. […] psalm for this past week was Psalm 4. (For an introduction to how we study the psalms see this post. For an earlier post on Psalm 4 see […]

    Reply

  2. […] took a step back in our study of the Psalms last week. I felt that the kids needed a little more basic practice on how to look at the […]

    Reply

  3. […] what the psalmist was emphasizing and where his focus lays. That is why I am trying to teach the poetry of the Psalms to my children. Wouldn’t you like  to join […]

    Reply

  4. […] here), and we are going to begin the Chronicles of the Ancient Chuch series. And some days we will analyze a psalm on our own. We do just one of these a day, but we alternate which […]

    Reply

  5. […] do hymn study; we do psalms instead. For a little refresher on how we approach the psalms see this post or this […]

    Reply

  6. […] an introduction to how we do Psalm study see this post and this one. You can also find all our earlier studies here (link coming soon). Having studied biblical Hebrew […]

    Reply

  7. […] took a step back in our study of the Psalms last week. I felt that the kids needed a little more basic practice on how to look at the […]

    Reply

  8. […] poetry is characterized not by rhyme or rhythm but by parallelism (see this post or this one for an intro to the topic). Though the passages we are looking at are not poems as […]

    Reply

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