Friday 13 February 2009

Jesper Høgenhaven on Psalms 1 and 2

Jesper Høgenhaven, ‘The Opening of the Psalter: A Study in Jewish Theology’, Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 15, 2 (2001), 169-80.

Links between Psalms 1 and 2 have often been noticed:

• Neither has a title or superscription.
• Psalm 1 begins with a blessing (1:1), and Psalm 2 ends with a blessing (2:12).
• The word translated ‘plot’ in Psalm 2:1 is the same word translated ‘meditate’ in Psalm 1:2.
• Psalm 1 ends with individuals being judged and perishing; Psalm 2 envisages nations perishing.
• Psalm 2:12 says ‘you will be destroyed in your way’; Psalm 1:6 uses that same language when it speaks of the way of the wicked perishing.
• Thematically, there is a contrast between the righteous and the wicked in Psalm 1, and a contrast between the rebellious nations and the Lord and his king in Psalm 2.

The two Psalms have regularly been read as one introduction to the Psalter.

The link has suggested to some that Psalm 1 be interpreted in the light of the ‘royal’ Psalm 2 (so that the figure of Psalm 1 who delights in the law is understood to be a kingly figure), whereas Høgenhaven suggests reading it in the opposite direction – Psalm 2 in the light of Psalm 1 (172).

Both psalms, according to Høgenhaven, show an interplay between different levels of time – the present and the future. The righteous person of Psalm 1 delights in the law of the Lord and anticipates the great separation at the final judgment, while Psalm 2 declares that blessed are all who take refuge in the Lord, who will one day make all nations serve his anointed one.

It is ‘the reference to the eschatological future as the necessary corollary to the statements made about the present [that] unite the two first Psalms’ (178). Høgenhaven sees Psalms 1 and 2 as ‘concerned with relating a present situation and the problems it poses for the righteous students of the divine tora to an eschatologically perceived future’ (178). In both psalms, ‘the troubling present is viewed in the light of the eschatological future, and in this light the proper attitude and the proper conduct for the present is laid out’ (179).

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