Psalm 15

Dear Reader,

Since Psalm 14 was so tough, we’ll relax a bit this week with the next one down the pike. Psalm 15 is pretty straight-forward and it has some nice parallelism for those of you who are just getting used to Psalm study. You can find all my Psalm posts here, including some background on how and why we do this.

Translation

Here is my translation of Psalm 15 to get you started:

A Psalm of David

1 LORD, who can sojourn in your tent?

2           Who can dwell on the mountain of your holiness?

3 [He who] walks uprightly

4             And does righteousness

5             And speaks truth in his heart.

6 [Who] did not gad about with his tongue,

7            Did not make for his neighbor evil

8     And  shame did not bear against his near-one.

9  The despicable in his eyes is rejected

10 But those who fear the LORD he honors.

11 He swears to [his own] hurt and does not recant.

12 His silver he did not give in usury

13 And a bribe against the innocent he did not take.

14 [He who] does these [things]

15 Will be not be moved forever.

I recommend printing out the Psalm and getting out some colored pencils. Look for lines that seem to be saying the same or similar things. Draw lines between the parallel elements.

Analysis

You will notice a few things. First of all, parallel lines don’t always come in twos. We have a number of triads here. These are the line divisions I came up with: Lines 1 and 2 go together. Lines 3, 4 and 5 make a triad as do 6, 7 and 8. Lines 9 and 10 are a pair. Then we have another triad in 11, 12 and 13. Finally, 14 and 15 go together. Let’s look at each grouping on it’s own.

Lines 1 and 2 form the introduction to the Psalm. They pose a question which the rest of the Psalm answers. We see one common feature of parallelism here: balancing. Line 1 contains an element, the word “LORD,” which is not repeated but can be assumed in line 2. To make up for its absence, line 2 gets an extra prepositional phrase, “of your holiness” (which is one word in Hebrew). Thus the two lines are kept about the same length.

Lines 3, 4 and 5 each contain a participle; most literally we could translate walking, doing and speaking. This is a little more awkward in English, however, so I added the “he who” (words in brackets are not in the Hebrew) and used the present tense for the verbs (biblical Hebrew had no real present tense). Perhaps to give it all a little more rhythm, the third line in this triad adds an extra word with the prepositional phrase “in his heart” (again, this is just one word in Hebrew).

The next triad switches to the past tense which perhaps more accurately should be thought of as completed action. I don’t believe the psalmist is trying to make a temporal distinction (he did not gad about but now he does speak). I suspect the change in verb forms is primarily to  distinguish the two triads. Once again the third member of the triad mixes things up. This time the change is a little bigger: rather than just adding a word, the order has been changed so that the direct object (“shame”) is placed first and the verb after. A couple of translation notes: the Hebrew uses two words for neighbor in lines 7 and 8. I couldn’t think of a one word synonym for neighbor in English so I went with “near-one.” (If you can think of one, let me know!) In line 6, the verb, Hebrew rgl, is related to the word for foot. The idea is that he is going around slandering people. The image of walking also serves to connect this triad to the previous one — each starts with a verb that has to do with physical movement. Notice also that the first triad lists three positive things the man does do and the second lists three bad things he does not do.

Lines 9 and 10 form a pair. In line 9, I would understand the “despicable in his eyes” to mean those who in God’s eyes are despised (because they are evil). There is some ambiguity here as the text does not make clear who the “his” refers to. But because fo the parallel to the next line, “those who fear the LORD,” this is how I would understand it. Together these two lines tell us that the man in question treats people as God does, despising those whom God despises and honoring those who fear God.

Next we get aother triad. This time very practical, even monetary, matters are in view.

The last two lines (as I have divided it up) are very short and they could be combined into one. Given how much other parallelism is in the Psalm, I liked them better as a [air but they do together express one thought: the man who does these things will not be moved. Like a five paragraph essay, we have come back to the question we asked at the beginning and answered it. Lines 14 and 15 provide closure to the Psalm.

Conclusions

I don’t have any particularly earth-shattering conclusions to draw. Psalm 15 is lovely when we take the time to look at its structure and I hope you have seen how it all works together. If there is any apex to this Psalm, OI think it is in lines 9 and 10. Consider the overall structure again:

pair of parallel lines : question

triad: positives

triad: negatives

pair

triad

pair: answering the question

Though there are two triads in the first half of the Psalm and only one in the second, there is a kind of balance here. The beginning and end pairs go together in some sense and the triads hand together which leaves the pair on lines that ois 9 and 10 and the height of the action, so to speak.

That’s what I got from this Psalm. What did you see?

Nebby

 

 

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