It is highly appropriate that the psalms should have frequently been set to music in
modern times, for they were originally songs which would have been sung by
soloists or choruses, often to instrumental accompaniment. Very probably some were also accompanied by
dancing. Though some seem like private meditations, many psalms seem to call for public
performance. The collection which exists in the Hebrew Bible is a varied one, probably gathering
together established favorites written over several centuries by different authors, some of whom
are mentioned by name in the introductions. The most famous of these is the great
musician-king David, who is not only said to be the author of many of the psalms, but to whom
Jewish and Christian tradition alike attributes all of them, including those clearly labeled as
being by others. Modern scholars have questioned whether, in fact any of the psalms can be
traced to David. Whatever their origin, they reflect a common poetic heritage which made
skillful use of parallelism: one line expresses an idea and the following line parallels it by
expressing the same or a related idea in different wording. The effect is often majestic. Psalm 19
is typical of a number of psalms which share the Genesis creation story's vision of a natural
world providing witness of a powerful and loving creator. The first stanza explores the paradox
that although nature cannot speak literally, it nevertheless testifies to God's greatness. The
second stanza focuses on one aspect of nature: the glorious sun, whose warmth penetrates
everywhere, like God's knowledge. The third stanza shifts from the natural world to one of
Judaism s favorite themes: the greatness of the law. Far from being seen as a burden or a curse, it
is compared to honey in the mouth. The next stanza refers to the main function of the law: to
make clear to the believer what should be done to please God; but the author is concerned that
he may inadvertently violate laws of which he is unaware, and asks to be protected from such
errors. The closing stanza makes a fitting conclusion, and is frequently used in worship
Although Jews praise God through nature, he is not nature itself, as in many other religions.
How does the first stanza make this clear?
Although Jews praise God through nature, he is not nature itself, as in many other religions. How does the first stanza make this clear?
New Revised Standard Version and dash them against the rock! (9)
(3) "The fear of the Lord" is a kind of respectful awe before his majesty and justice which is often praised in the Writings as the essence of wisdom.
(4) The speaker, representing any worshipper.
(5) Note that the opening stanza portrays speech which is not literally uttered;,later the poet turns to sins which are unconscious and involuntary, and here the subject is thoughts which remain unspoken. Despite its varied themes, their is a strong unity running throughout the poem.
(6) Babylon was situated on the banks of the Euphrates.
(7) "Zion" is a poetic religious name for the mountain on which Jerusalem was built and where the great temple was erected by Solomon. It is often used to refer to the future re-establishment of the temple (torn down by the Babylonians) and later, to a kind of paradise on earth to be established during the Messianic age. In modern times Zionism has described the drive to reestablish a Jewish political state in Israel, ending the third great Jewish exile known as "The Diaspora" (the scattering).
(8) This stanza meditates on a paradox: singing about the fact that one refuses to sing about Jerusalem.
(9) This vindictive final stanza is often omitted in public recitations, but it has had its consequences. During the First Crusade, Christian knights are said to have slain Jewish and Muslim children while chanting these verses.
This is an excerpt from Reading About the World, Volume 1, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by Harcourt Brace Custom Publishing.
The reader was created for use in the World Civilization course at Washington State
University, but material on this page
may be used for educational purposes by permission of the editor-in-chief:
Reading About the World is now out of print. You can search for used copies using the following information:Paul Brians, et al. Reading About the World, Vol. 1, 3rd edition, Harcourt Brace College Publishing: ISBN 0-15-567425-0 or Paul Brians, et al. Reading About the World, Vol. 2, 3rd edition, Harcourt Brace College Publishing: ISBN 0-15-512826-4.
http://www.chambal.com/csin/9780155674257/ (vol. 1)
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