Psalm 91 Exegesis Essay
Excerpt from Essay :
Exegesis of Psalm 91:1
Hayes and Holladay (2007) state that exegetical works are an exercise in "leading" readers of Scripture, in the sense that they act as interpretive signposts designed to assist readers in comprehending the Word of God (p. 1). This paper provides an exegetical analysis of Psalm 91:1-16 and discusses how the writer of the Psalm shows that God favors those who show complete faith in His ability to look after His faithful sons.
The Book of Psalms is a poetic collection of songs written by David, the shepherd boy who grew up to be a king, chosen by God to rule over His chosen people. The psalms are hymns expressing a range of thoughts, prayers, joys, pains, gladness and wonder. David's life was filled with such range -- from his slaying of Goliath, to his persecution by his family and friends, to his triumphant guidance of the Ark of the Covenant into the Temple. The psalms are so expressive of our humanity in all its varying aspects that they are still repeated in Church liturgy today.
The Biblical story of David begins with the Book of Samuel in the Old Testament. When Samuel arrives at the house of Jesse in Bethlehem, the Lord tells him not to be surprised by the height of the son he is to anoint, since he is still yet a small boy. The Lord tells Samuel which to anoint, and that one is David. This special anointing marks David as one upon whom "the Lord came powerfully" (1 Sam 16:13). Meanwhile, King Saul is oppressed by an evil spirit, and one of his attendants (following in the common belief of the time that music could help soothe a suffering body/soul) tells the King that he knows of a young son of Jesse of Bethlehem "who knows how to play the lyre" (1 Sam 16:16). It is through this invitation to play for the King that David is introduced to the royal court. David plays the lyre so well that Saul allows him to stay.
As Jonathan Kirsch observes, however, Saul did not merely allow David to stay with him: He also gave David an important title -- "weapons bearer" (Kirsch, 2000, p. 49). This title would foreshadow that great military victory that David would soon have over the Philistines. Indeed, it also foreshadows the glory of the Psalms as spiritual artillery. Psalm 91, in fact, acts as a spiritual bow and arrow that carries the reader straight to the heart of God, Who loves men after his own heart -- which is what David in the Psalms reflects. For this reason it is known as the "Soldier's Psalm" (Williams-Hayes, p. 51).
Psalm 91 was written in a similar style with similar content as Psalm 90. Once again, God is described as a place of "refuge" as Tesh and Zorn (2004) show. However, while Psalm 90 is a song or hymn that is meant to be expressive of the whole rather than the individual, Psalm 91 is more personal in its expression. It is directed to the inner self: it's use of the first person pronoun is indicative of the self-assertiveness of the Psalm. As Brueggemann (1984) states, the Psalm is "enormously open" to the individual and acts as a kind of tutorship -- an assurance or breathe of confidence for the hearer and a reminder of the true home and sanctuary of the faithful. It acts as hymn of praise that serves a two-fold purpose: first, it recognizes God as a divine protector; second, it asserts decisive trust and show of faith in God's goodness. It corresponds to the difficulties that David faced in his own life, when pursued by his own people (and kin) and how he never doubted his deliverance but had full confidence in the protection of God, in Whom he placed his trust.
As Tesh and Zorn (2004) indicate, the brunt of the Psalm is located in the Hebrew word "ki," the meaning of which can be found in the English word "because" or "for this reason." It is a pivotal word, "ki," and represents a hinging nature -- which is the essence of the Psalm: because God is the divine refuge, I will seek shelter in His arms.
The theme of the Psalm is explicitly rendered in the fist verse: "Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow
of the Almighty" (Psalm 91:1). This verse announces the point of the hymn and sets up the following verses which go to illustrate the theme, broaden it, deepen it, and expand it through visual imagery, as verse 4 does: "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge." The imagery counters that provided in the preceding verse, which speakers of a "fowler's snare," a trap for catching birds. God, therefore, is pictured as a spiritual bird, who cannot be caught or subdued by the tricks of man. From man, therefore, the Psalm depicts God as a deliver. Indeed, deliverance from enemies and "terrors of the night" (Psalm 91:5) is the purpose.
Yet God is not just depicted as a saving eagle with protective wings -- but as plague-resistant: "A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand" (Psalm 91:7-8). The diseases of the world, the Psalmist notes, will take others with it into death, but the plague will not approach the divine one, whose shadow is a place of rest -- a "fortress" as verse 2 indicates. Thus, the theme is deepened by "death" imagery and "soldier" imagery, uniting these two ideas which are typical of a battlefield and applying them to a spiritual hymn. That such imagery would lend itself as applicable to such a hymn further illustrates the nature of the hymn itself: it is meant to rouse one's spirits, which may be dampened by thoughts of impending doom or disaster. It is meant to rouse the soul from the depths and uplift it with vigorous notes of bold reminders of the ways that God will look after those who love Him and place their confidence in Him.
The Psalm, like David's early youthful victory over Goliath, is a sweeping victory of the soul in the face of defeat. Just as David does not just go to meet his foe but runs to meet him, this Psalm runs the soul of the hearer to God, with Whom it longs to be. This exuberance of both the Psalm and David is what commentators suggest exemplifies the kind of spiritual exuberance with which the children of God should meet the obstacles they face (Kaiser, 2011, p. 12). David in his run kills Goliath with a rock hurled from a sling. David then uses Goliath's sword to cut off the Philistine's head. It is a swift, surprising victory.
Moreover, the fact that the Psalmist makes the hymn more personal in its trajectory indicates that the relationship between God and man is a personal one that should be felt by all. It is not just a relationship for kings or persons in high or safe places, for the tone of the Psalm is one in which the Psalmist is found to be in want, as though he were in humble or humiliating circumstances. Danger is a very real presence for the Psalmist. This should further appeal to the universal plight of man, which is felt at all times and in all places -- a degree of longing, of need, of want, that only a spiritual God can satisfy.
The universality of the Psalm is further expressed by the fact that David represents or prefigures Christ, Who is the new Adam and Adam is in a sense every man. Therefore this connection can be drawn. But as McKenzie (2000) states, there is more to David's appeal than just this: the Old Testament contains several books "devoted to David," (McKenzie, 2000, p. 26). Just as the Psalm begins with the theme of shelter, the Biblical story of David begins with the Book of Samuel, with David becoming the anointed one, the new shelter for the spirit or heart of God in man. In 1 Samuel 15, God shows his displeasure with King Saul and tells Samuel the prophet that He has rejected Saul as the king over Israel. This love of God for man is reflected though from man's perspective in Psalm 91. Just as in 1 Samuel 16 the Lord says to Samuel: "I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king" (1 Sam 16:1), Psalm 91 says, "Because he loves me…I will rescue him" (Psalm 91:14). God chooses those who love Him to be his anointed ones, His sons. The son God has chosen, of course, is David in the Book of Samuel. But in the Psalm, the son is everyone who loves God -- it is an appeal to all…
Sources Used in Documents:
Brueggemann, W. (1984). The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary.
Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing.
Hayes, J., Holladay, C. (2007). Biblical Exegesis: a beginner's handbook. London:
Westminster John Knox Press.
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