Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Psalms

This week, our literature selections are from the Psalms.  This post contains extra information and web links needed for your homework assignments.  The sections in it are:

  • Tuesday: Psalm 119 and the Hebrew Alphabet
  • Thursday: Isaac Watts, Psalm 90 and "O God, Our Help in Ages Past"

Tuesday: Psalm 119 and the Hebrew Alphabet

With a whopping 176 verses, this is by far the longest Psalm.  Another unusual feature of this Psalm is that it is an acrostic poem.  There are 22 sections of 8 verses each, one section for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Each of the verses in the section starts with that letter.  The NIV Study Bible notes: “The author had a theme that filled his soul, a theme as big as life, that ranged the length and breadth and height and depth of a person’s walk with God.  Nothing less than the use of the full power of language would suffice, and of that the alphabet was a most apt symbol."

The main theme of Psalm 119 is devotion to God’s word.  Eight Hebrew synonyms for "God's word" are used throughout the Psalm, which each section including at least six of them. 

  • torah: law
  • ‘edot: statutes
  • piqqudim: precepts
  • miswot: commands or commandments
  • mishpatim: laws or ordinances
  • huqqim: decrees
  • dabar: word, promise, or law
  • ‘imrah: word or promise

As we discussed in class, Psalm 119 is written as an acrostic, with each section of verses starting with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet.  You can see the Hebrew alphabet at this link:

Please note that the Hebrew language is read from right to left, so Aleph is the first letter on the top row of the chart.   The characters for Hebrew letters also stood for numbers, as you can see at the top of each one.  Hebrew is traditionally written without vowels, but there are small markings that can be added to these consonants to show the vowel sounds said with them.  You can click the "Recite" button at the bottom left of the chart to hear the sounds.  You can also click on the letters to read more about them.

Practice copying at least the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet and label each one with the name: Aleph, Beth, etc.

Choose your favorite verse from the ones below and copy it.


Aleph:  1 Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. 

Bet: 9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. 

Gimel:  18 Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. 

Daleth:  27 Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders. 

He:  37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;  preserve my life according to your word.
Waw:  48 I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees.

Zayin: 54 Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. 

Heth:  61 Though the wicked bind me with ropes,  I will not forget your law. 

Teth:  71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. 

Yodh:  73 Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands. 

Kaph:  86 All your commands are trustworthy; help me, for men persecute me without cause. 

Lamedh:  93 I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life. 

Mem:  103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 

Nun: 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. 

Samekh: 114 You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word. 

Ayin:  126 It is time for you to act, O LORD; your law is being broken. 

Pe: 130 The unfolding of your words gives light;  it gives understanding to the simple. 

Tsadhe:  140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them. 

Qoph: 148 My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. 

Resh:  160 All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.

Sin and Shin: 165 Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. 

Taw:  172 May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous. 

Thursday: Isaac Watts, Psalm 90 and "O God, Our Help in Ages Past"

Isaac Watts wrote his hymn "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" based on Psalm 90.

Read Psalm 90 here: Psalm 90 in KJV at BibleGateway
Copy down Psalm 90:2 as you see it written there. 

Read the words of the hymn here: Lyrics of "O God, Our Help in Ages Past."  Copy the third stanza, which starts with the words "Before the hills..."  Note the similarity with Psalm 90:2.

I read this to you in class, but please read it again:

Picture of Isaac WattsIsaac Watts was the oldest of nine children.  His father was in prison when Isaac was born because he was a Dissenter, a nonconformist Christian who refused to agree with the official teachings of the Church of England.  Isaac was a very bright child and had a habit of speaking in rhyme. When his father scolded him for this, he replied, “Oh, Father, do some pity take, and I will no more verses make.”  Isaac learned many languages: Latin at the age of five, Greek at nine, French at eleven and Hebrew at thirteen!  A wealthy man offered to send Isaac to one of the top universities, but he would have had to join the Church of England.  His conscious would not allow him to do this, so he went to a nonconformist evangelical Christian school instead.  Isaac only grew to be 5 feet tall and had a really big head, but no matter what he looked like, people loved him! He also had small pox when he was 15 years old, so he was often weak and sick. He didn’t think he could keep his job as a pastor, but the people in his church loved him and his preaching so much that they wouldn’t let him quit.  They just hired an extra pastor to help him so he could stay.

Once when he was still a young man living at home, Isaac complained to his father that the hymns in church were boring.  His father replied, “Then do something about it!”  That afternoon, he sat down and wrote a hymn which was sung at a church service that same evening.  He wrote a new hymn every week for two years.  All in all, he wrote over 600 different hymns.  We still sing many of them today, such as, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed?” and “Joy to the World.”  Isaac Watts’s psalms and hymns came to America and God used them mightily during the Great Awakening, a period of revival in the 1740s.  Americans also loved to sing them during the Revolutionary War.  One time, some Patriot soldiers ran out of the paper they needed for loading powder into their guns.  A pastor, Reverend James Caldwell, ran into his church and started tearing the pages out of the hymnals for them to use for firing their guns.  He shouted, “Give ‘em Watts, boys!”  We can give our enemy (the devil) “Watts” by singing praises to God!  He can’t stand that!  As Psalm 8:2 says, From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.