The Book of Psalms

Monday: Let God Be Exalted


Theme: Repetition in the Psalms
In this week’s lessons the psalmist teaches us to pray in desperate circumstances.
Scripture: Psalm 70:1-5
For the second time in our study of the psalms we come to a psalm that is a virtual repetition of words found earlier. The first time this happened was more obvious, because it involved the almost exact duplication of an earlier psalm, namely, the duplication of Psalm 14 as Psalm 53. This psalm we are looking at repeats only a portion of an earlier psalm. It is a repetition of verses 13-17 from Psalm 40. Nevertheless, it is a repetition, which makes us ask about the relationship between the two psalms as well as question whether there is any reason for the several slight differences that exist.
What is the relationship between the two psalms? When we were studying Psalm 40 earlier in this series, I pointed out that some Old Testament scholars, particularly those of the critical school, think that Psalm 40 was originally two psalms, verses 1-12 being the first and verses 13-17 being the second, and that they were put together somewhat awkwardly by an unknown editor. They consider the combination to be awkward, because the first part of Psalm 40 speaks of deliverance from a desperate situation and the second part is still seeking a deliverance. This kind of combination is not strange to the psalms, however, and it is equally possible—I said earlier that in my opinion this is actually the case—that Psalm 70 was detached from the longer psalm in order to salvage it for general use at a later period.
The placing of the two psalms in the Psalter, the first in an early section among the many psalms of David and the second in a later, somewhat more eclectic section, may point in this direction.
If Psalm 70 was detached from Psalm 40 with the goal of making it into a distinct composition for later use, the intent seems to have been to stress the urgency of the psalmist’s plight and highlight the need for God to hurry to his defense.
This is because of the small differences between Psalm 40 and the nearly identical material in Psalm 40. For example, Psalm 40:13 begins with the words “be pleased,” but they are omitted here. In fact, Psalm 70 does not even have the word “hasten” at the start, as the New International Version suggests, but begins literally, “God, to deliver me, LORD, to my help, hurry.” That sounds just about as urgent in Hebrew as it does in English. Again, the Hebrew text of Psalm 40:14 has the words “together” after the word “confounded” and “to destroy it” after “seek my life.” These words do not occur in Psalm 70. (They do not occur in the New International Version of Psalm 40 either, though they are in the Hebrew. It is hard to imagine why the NIV translators have excised them, unless it is merely to make the two psalms concur with each other).
Study Questions:

What is the reason for the repetition in Psalm 70?
Why might Psalm 70 have been detached from Psalm 40?

Application: Look back on a time when you prayed in a panic. How did God answer?
For Further Study: James Boice’s published sermons on the Psalms can be used for one’s personal or family devotions. Order your copy of his three-volume set and receive 25% off the regular price.

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