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Several verses in Psalm 4 are in the first person, for example in verse 1:

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! ESV

At first sight it seems obvious that "I" refers to David, especially as the author is indicated:

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

However I'm worried I might be misunderstanding the genre - in a modern-day song, for example "Here I Am To Worship", "I" refers both to the author and the singer - it isn't sung solely in the sense of "Here Tim Hughes Is To Worship"!

Given the rest of the introduction to the psalm, should we consider David's intention to be for his people to understand themselves individually as the "I" they sing?

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

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Mildly related (since it's on the same Psalm): Have the “many” in Psalm 4 received blessings or were they already blessed? It should be noted that many other psalms have the same note, "Of David". Interesting question! –  Jon Ericson Aug 1 '12 at 16:19
    
Interesting question. I've been assuming, but never stopped to think about it, that the author meant "I" to mean himself and the compilers of the tanakh meant the psalms to be a model for us (so "I" is broader), but I can't support that. It's just a gut feeling. –  Gone Quiet Aug 1 '12 at 19:03
    
@Monica that also raises the question in my mind of separate authorship of the psalm and the note at the top, which I hadn't considered! –  Jack Douglas Aug 2 '12 at 10:49
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Good point! These notes have always struck me as a little odd (authors usually don't write about themselves in the third person like that, Miss Manners aside), but maybe that's idiomatic in some applicable literary form or something. –  Gone Quiet Aug 2 '12 at 14:45

1 Answer 1

This is an interesting question, and one I never reflected upon.

Here's just a thought: According to notes in the Swedish Bible translation from 2000, the wording "To the choirmaster" is uncertain and another way to interpret the Hebrew word would be "For invocation". I have not managed to find other references to this.

The word in question is למנצח, which is a noun with a prefix. Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh discuss this word in depth and make cross-references, comparing the meaning. They write:

Hence מנצּח is not the director of the Temple-music but in general the master of song, and למנצח addresses the Psalm to him whose duty it is to arrange it and to train the Levite choristers; it therefore defines the Psalm as belonging to the songs of the Temple worship that require musical accompaniment.

While I'm no expert on the subject, I believe the proposed usage of the Psalm implies that it is directed from the singer (regardless of whether it's David or someone else) to the Lord, as with any prayer, although I can't be certain. Also, maybe David never actually intended that the Psalm would be sung by anyone else than him, but it was still written down by others who immediately used as if they were referring to themselves in the first person. In that case, we need to decide which question we are trying to answer (i.e. "What did David intend?" versus "How was it used in the beginning?"). Maybe someone else, who knows Biblical Hebrew or how they performed worship in the Temple, can expand on these things?

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