The Drama in the Psalms

james.jpgRecently, while traveling to Stratford, England, I was reminded of William Shakespeare’s possible association with Psalm 46. Reading that psalm got me thinking of the psalms as small dramas.

In 1604 King James had sought to clear his country’s Bible of its anti-royalist notes by commissioning a new and demotic translation. Six groups of fifty-four translators edited one another’s work. The poetical sections like Psalms and The Song of Solomon were probably run by the leading poets of the day.

In this context, Shakespearean scholars, like Anthony Burgess, had noted a peculiar fact surrounding Psalm 46. The forty-sixth word from the beginning is shake and the forty-sixth word from the end (leaving out Selah) is spear. And in 1610, the year of the new Bible’s finishing touches, William Shakespeare was forty-six years old.

                       God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
                       Therefore will not we fear, though the earth  be removed, and though the mountains  be carried  into the  midst  of the sea;
                       Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.  Selah.
                       There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of  the most High.
                       God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her and that right early.
                       The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
                       The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  Selah.
                       Come; behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth. 
                       He maketh wars  to cease  unto the end  of the earth;  he breaketh  the bow,  and cutteth the spear  in sunder ;  he burneth  the chariot  in the fire.
                       Be still, and know that I am God:  I will be exalted among the heathen; I will be exalted in the earth.
                       The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  Selah.

Reading the psalm, I noticed that the speaker is not talking to God, but rather seems to be talking to others about God. Then, near the end, the speaker quotes God, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth,” before returning to his audience to assure them that “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Reviewing the psalms with my actor/director hat on, I could see each psalm as a unique dramatic situation. Usually the speaker is addressing God, but often the speaker turns to talk to a friend, rulers, angels, people, everything on earth, all who fear God, you who worship God, you stupid ones among the people, you fools, or the family of Israel, the people of Jerusalem, the servants of the Lord, or all you nations, or you who plan evil, or the various specific elements of creation, as in Psalm 148.

When the speaker talks to God he uses in the second person “you”; when he talks to others about God he uses the third person “He” or “God” or “the Lord”.  Sometimes the speaker talks to God about the others, sometimes the speaker talks to others about God. Many times the speaker talks about himself through the first person singular “I” or about the group of which he is a part with the first person plural “We.”

As I read each psalm I ask who is being spoken to and why? Who, besides God, is listening? As the psalm unfolds, the answers change. 

Then I turn personal, and ask, “Need I speak to anyone that way, and, if so, why?” “Whom should I want to hear me?”

 God invites us to participate in the drama of the psalms both as we read and as we live.

Comments are disabled for this post