Good morning! I’m glad we are finding ways to traverse the Psalms with one another, doing what feels right in the way of taking them a little at a time or reading them all at the same setting. I encourage you to make the most out of them however it works best for you. Today we have Psalms 21-26, but I’m going to focus mostly on just two of them, Psalms 22 and 23.
Walter Brueggemann’s categorization of the psalms has had a lasting impact on my understanding, particularly his observation that many of the psalms fall into one of three categories. They are psalms of “orientation”, “disorientation”, and “reorientation”. The psalms of orientation are the most straightforward and common of these three types. We’ve seen many of them already, and they’re in evidence today with Psalms 21, 25 and 26. These establish a straightforward rendering of the universe, with an all-powerful God in charge, making sure that the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished.
Psalm 23 expresses the “orientation” of the righteous psalmist. The entirety of the psalm is really captured in that first verse: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” We read of radical trust in God’s care throughout all of life. One thing to note here regarding translation is that the most accurate modern translations make it clear that Psalm 23 is about the “here” rather than the “hereafter”. Thus, we read about “the darkest valley” and “my whole life long” in the New Revised Standard Version. Yet the King James translation with which so many of us are familiar was written with more poetic and theological intent that this would be a comfort in time of death. For that reason, “the darkest valley” reads as “the valley of the shadow of death”, and dwelling in God’s house at the end of the psalm has no limit, but is “forever”. The confidence in this Psalm, even though occasional trials and enemies are mentioned, makes it clear that this is a foundational worldview, one that has been treasured for thousands of years.
But what happens when things aren’t going in a favorable direction for the Psalmist, even though all God’s ways are diligently followed? What happens when Job suffers with no apparent cause? Then we find ourselves in the second of Brueggemann’s categories: disorientation. This is how I would describe Psalm 22, which describes the misery of a human being in great travail. For Christian readers, elements of this psalm will be familiar from the crucifixion of Jesus, particularly verse 1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Note the many other details from here that coincide with the gospels’ telling of the final crucifixion. An increasing number of psalms coming up will have this character of lament and confusion because the righteous ordering of the universe is not guaranteed.
We’ll get to the third category of “reorientation” psalms further down the line, when those who have been through suffering nevertheless find themselves back on the path of righteousness and divine favor, There are fewer of this category than the other two, and so they tend to blend in with other “thematic” subsets among the psalms, including chapter 24’s theme of the righteous and worthy going up to the temple. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Psalms 27-32. Thanks for reading!